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Compulsory vaccination ‘not ruled out’ in fight against ‘reprehensible’ anti-vaxxers, says health secretary

‘I don’t want to reach the point of compulsory vaccination,’ says Matt Hancock, who adds that anti-vaxxers have blood on their hands

Alex Matthews-King
Health Correspondent
Saturday 04 May 2019 15:52 BST
‘Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible,’ said Matt Hancock
‘Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible,’ said Matt Hancock (PA)

People who spread myths about the harms of vaccines have “blood on their hands” the health secretary has said as he refused to rule out compulsory immunisations.

While Matt Hancock downplayed suggestions that it would be made illegal not to vaccinate children, he said it could be considered if stalling immunisation rates are not addressed.

Vaccines are “good for you, good for your children, and good for your neighbour” who may have a medical condition that prevents them having the vaccine, he said.

“Those who have promoted the anti-vaccination myth are morally reprehensible, deeply irresponsible and have blood on their hands,” he added.

His comments came in the wake of an investigation by The Times which found 40,000 UK parents are members of a single online group calling for children to be left unimmunised against life-threatening disease.

Social media platforms like Facebook have been seen as key conduits for the spread of “anti-vaxxer fake news” which is having harmful consequences, according to UK health authorities.

However medical experts blamed government health reforms for falling immunisation rates, which have seen MMR uptake drop four years running.

Last month a Unicef report found half a million UK children went unvaccinated over the past seven years.

World Health Organisation figures show global measles cases rose 300 per cent in the first three months of 2019, compared to the same period last year. The UK also saw its highest number of cases for a decade in 2018.

Mr Hancock said he was “completely open to all options” on bolstering vaccination rations, something which has previously been interpreted to mean banning unvaccinated children from schools.

Asked about the proposals on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Mr Hancock said: “I don’t want to reach the point of compulsory vaccination. I said I’ll rule nothing out, but I don’t want to reach that point, I don’t think we’re near there.”

Doctors were divided on the proposals, anaesthetist Dr Dave Jones backed compulsory vaccination.

But Dr Max Davie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said they first needed to undo the damage caused by underfunding and Conservative-led NHS reforms in 2012 which split responsibility for immunisation.

“The difficulty is that the recent spike in UK cases does not appear to be due to a drop in public confidence, but in administrative and resource problems resulting from the split of public health to local authorities,” he wrote on Twitter.

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