L.Like many parents in Totnes, Lotus Tarn would never permit her daughter to be vaccinated. "It's just not natural to pump that kind of stuff into children when they're developing," she said. "I would never allow that to happen."
Tarn pointed to her 10-year-old child as she danced around the square outside the Greenlife wholefoods and remedies store in south Devon town. “Look at her. She is so full of life. When we go to the natural doctor he says he can tell she has been vaccinated. Her immune system has been compromised. This hippy stuff, all the truth. The body can find its own solutions, its own intelligence, if we let it. ”
Vince and Daisy (not their real names), who run a successful eco-business in Totnes, said they thought people would think of them as “wackos” for not vaccinating their two young children. "The media portray it as a hippy movement but not an educated choice for many people here," said Daisy. “We spent months reading medical articles, speaking to parents of vaccine-injured children. Our human body can defend itself. We will weaken ourselves if we vaccinate. ”
Vince added: “Our children have never been sick. Rather than having some foreign bodies put into them, potentially causing disruption to them, they have been naturally immunized. Many people are simply taking the word of doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. If you do a bit of digging, scratching the surface, you will find a lot of corruption in the vaccine industry. Just follow the money. ”
Health experts have expressed alarm at NHS figures showing a drop in routine childhood vaccinations across England. The figures show a loss of confidence not only in the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine but in basic immunizations given to babies in the first year of life.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has said the government is seriously considering compulsory vaccinations for state school pupils and has received advice on how such a law could work. Other experts have come up with suggestions such as offering vaccines at supermarkets or at pop-up clinics or music festivals. The Daily Mail has launched a campaign encouraging parents to neutralize and criticize “myths and online scare stories” around the subject.
If the figures are nationally relevant to the government, the statistics for Totnes, a haven for people seeking an alternative lifestyle, are even more stark. Across England, take-up of one dose of MMR vaccine by five years old is 94.5%, slightly below the 95% target. The latest figure for the Totnes surgery, Leatside, is 78%.
Across England the coverage of the DTaP-IPV / Hib vaccine, which protects against infections such as diphtheria and whooping cough, is 92% at 12 months, the lowest since 2008-9. The south-west of England had 94% coverage for the same period, and the latest figure for Leatside was 84%.
Dr Julie Yates, public health England's lead consultant for screening and immunization in the south west, said the vast majority of people had their children vaccinated. “But there are a significant number of people who have alternative lifestyles and alternative views to healthcare. Very reasonable. We respect that, ”she said. “We offer what we have said and keep the door open. We tell them never too late and if you change your mind you can come back. Keeping pestering them with invites and reminders will help. ”
Yates spelled out what she saw as the dangers of not vaccinating in a letter published before a meeting organized by people who were vaccinated, saying that while four or five children may not be immunized per quarter may seem small, it could gradually build up a population. of 200 unimmunised children over 10 years.
Yates said that over time this created a group of children and young people who were at risk of becoming ill but could also pass on infections to other vulnerable individuals such as babies, or those with immune deficiencies who were unable to have their own immunizations.
She said there had been large outbreaks in the south-west in recent years, which she put down to a drop in immunizations. “In 2015-16 more than 240 people developed measles in the south-west, with the outbreak starting and being centered in south Devon. We experienced a similar large outbreak last year, this time centered on Bristol, which is an area that has a similar low uptake of immunizations, ”Yates said.
“Nothing we do in life is without risk, but immunization is the safest and most effective option, which is why more than nine out of 10 parents make this choice for their children. One hundred years ago, families sadly took it for granted that some of their children would die in childhood. Fortunately, the tragedy of losing a child is now a very rare occurrence. That difference has a great deal to do with developments in healthcare, including our world-class immunization programs. ”
PHE works hard to make sure doctors and nurses in Totnes have the information they need to help them make their decisions and make clinic times as flexible as possible to try to boost numbers.
Lucy Harries, a screening and immunization manager in the southwest, said the figures for Totnes were concerning. “Vaccines work, vaccines save lives. We want to achieve the 95% uptake. ”
But even some local doctors are not sure that making it legal to have children vaccinated is a good idea. Dylan Watkins, a GP at Leatside Surgery, said: “I think the goal of increased or universal vaccine uptake is laudable and desirable but to achieve it by making it compulsory is doomed to failure. It has not achieved its purpose in other countries and if it were tried here people would subvert the process in any way achievable. In fact, making it compulsory would feed the conspiracy theorists and could, perversely, feasibly, reduce uptake. ”
Confidence in the MMR jab appears to have been falling, at least partly in response to misinformation and scare stories spreading on social media. The discredited claims of Andrew Wakefield, who theorized in 1998 that the jab was linked to autism, are widely circulated.
Many of the Totnes parents who are concerned about vaccines reel off the ingredients they contain, such as aluminum, pork gelatine, egg protein and formaldehyde. Some are alarmed that the ingredients can be toxic and some that they are not compatible with choices such as veganism.
Explaining why vaccinations are important on its website, the NHS says vaccines sometimes contain other ingredients that make them safer and more effective. It says: "There is no evidence that any of these ingredients cause harm when used in such small amounts."