Stephanie Smith: We must protect all children, not just our own

There can be few creatures on earth quite so selfish as the human parent.

Not selfish in the strict sense of the word, thinking of themselves only, but selfish in a slightly wider sense – single-mindedly putting their own children first, even if this might be at the expense of other people’s children.

The measles epidemic in Swansea is an example. So far there have been more than 1,000 cases, with the disease spreading mainly because the parents of children now aged 10-18 chose not to have them vaccinated with the MMR jab as toddlers.

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In England one million children have missed the MMR jab, again largely because their parents paid heed to the now discredited fear that the triple vaccine was overloading the immune systems of young children, causing them to develop autism and bowel disorders. Now there are concerns that a generation of children have little or no protection against measles, which is highly contagious and can lead to permanent complications including brain damage, deafness and eye disorders. And it can kill.

I remember the dilemma when my son, now 15, was called for his MMR at 13 months, and again at three, for the booster. I had actually written stories on the scare and interviewed the mothers of children with autism – a condition they sincerely believed had been brought on by the MMR jab.

Waiting for our older children to emerge at the school gates, we mums discussed the issue fretfully. Views were mixed; one mother went to considerable lengths to get separate jabs against measles, mumps and rubella. Most, like me, decided to cross fingers and submit our children to the triple. One mother, however, had an interesting take – she had long since decided not to have her children vaccinated because she saw no need. “In a country like England, these diseases are not a problem,” she said. “But surely that’s because we are lucky enough to have our children vaccinated against them,” I suggested. She looked at me dismissively.

I thought about this mum and her children a few years later when my son, then eight, developed lymphoma and had his immunity wiped out by the chemotherapy that saved his life. He was back at school soon after finishing treatment, his hair beginning to grow again, but needed to wait six months before he could have all his childhood jabs repeated so diseases such as measles could not attack his already compromised immune system. Now the dilemma was, should he really be going to school?

Protecting other people’s children was probably not an issue I considered much when I took mine for their MMR jabs. But it should have been. I’m glad I took them.

Twitter: @yorkshirefashQ