Should childhood vaccines be mandatory?

The Current ran an excellent piece yesterday on the importance of child vaccinations. Guests included Margaret Somerville (founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law) and Paul Offit (head of Infectious Diseases and Director of the Vaccination Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia). One of his more memorable statements was:

Is it your inalienable right to catch and transmit a potentially fatal infection? I think the answer is no.

Towards the end of the interview the panelists were asked whether a distrust in authority promotes anti-vaccine attitudes. Both said yes. I tend to agree, but think that this response has to be put in a broader context: distrust in authority must be combined with a devastatingly poor science literacy amongst Americans and Canadians alike to appreciate the pushback against vaccination. In the US in particular there is rampant skepticism about basic truths about the development of the planet, of core scientific theories concerning biology, and a valourization of those who deliberately remain ignorant of these core scientific facts and theories. While the situation isn’t quite bad in Canada there remains pervasive failures in scientific education and distrust in medical doctors.

From a regulatory and public health standpoint the response to the ‘vaccine problem’ might be a more coercive public health agenda that actively works to improve ‘herd immunity’. But that would be correcting a symptom of a much broader problem: trust in authority and understanding of science. And there isn’t a clear political approach that’s likely to address this broader problem absent radical depolarization of the North American political climate and attempts to increase scientific literacy amongst children and their parents.