Cross Country Checkup·Checkup

Should some vaccinations be mandatory?

Protecting the herd: Measles has broken out in pockets across North America, a place where the disease had been declared successfully eradicated. Many are blaming anti-vaccinationists for threatening the health of others. Should some vaccinations be mandatory?

Protecting the herd: Measles has broken out in pockets across North America, a place where the disease at one time had been declared successfully eradicated.

Many are blaming anti-vaccinationists for threatening the health of others.

What do you think?  Should some vaccinations be mandatory?



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It's considered one of the true markers of progress in public health that it is now conceivable that certain diseases could be eradicated - not just in our part of the world but across the globe. Small pox was the first such triumph and is now considered vanquished. Polio and Tuberculosis are much reduced.

Measles used to be considered all but eradicated from North America but recent years and months have proven that it will be more of a challenge than previously believed.

Why? Because the less common a disease becomes, the less of a threat it is perceived to be ...and some chose to believe that the vaccination itself ...the very thing that reduced the threat of the disease is itself a threat to health.

Over the past year cases of measles have turned up in British Columbia, Alberta, California, and Toronto. Pockets of people who are firmly opposed to the idea of vaccinations appear to be on the rise. And so too are incidences of several diseases formerly thought to be in decline.

The recent outbreaks of measles in Disneyland ...and here in Toronto has set of a vigorous discussion of what to do about people who refuse to vaccinate their children.

Some say it should be mandatory. Others say that won't work and will only serve to stiffen opposition to vaccinations.  Most parents have accepted the idea that the minor discomfort and miniscule risk of vaccinations translate into a much broader protection for the whole community. It's called 'herd protection' ...when the numbers of the vaccinated surpass a certain percentage, then their immunity reduces the incidence of disease. This effectively creates a kind of immunity for others in the community who are not vaccinated.  

How many situations are there where an individual gets a chance to make a calculation on the relative costs and benefits to herself and the community around her ...a situation where a small risk to one's child translates into a much larger benefit for the community? We make these choices in a range of other areas - for example when we give up authority to the police and courts for the larger benefit of protection and justice provided for the community.

Today we'd like to hear your opinions and experiences. Have you hesitated over getting your child vaccinated for childhood diseases? What is at the root of the discomfort over vaccinations? How do you weigh the pros and cons in making these kind of health decisions? Do you see vaccinations as a social responsibility or a purely personal choice? Do you think worries about vaccination are on the rise?

I'm Rex Murphy  ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius XM, satellite radio channel 169 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


Dr. Michael Gardam
Director of Infection Prevention and Control at the University Health Network in Toronto; Physician Director of the Community and Hospital Infection Control Association Canada.
Twitter: @DrMichaelGardam

Megan McArdle
Bloomberg View columnist and author of "The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success."
Twitter: @asymmetricinfo

Michael Bliss
Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, biographer and author of several books including "William Osler: A Life in Medicine."


Canadian Medical Association Journal

Globe and Mail

National Post


The New England Journal of Medicine

U.S. National Library of Medicine

College of Physicians of Philadelphia: History of Vaccines