Glasgow MP suggests failure to immunise children should become criminal offence

The Government should look at making failure to immunise children a “criminal offence”, a Labour MP said as the Commons discussed tackling the rise of “vaccine hesitancy”.

During a debate to mark World Immunisation Week, Paul Sweeney (Glasgow North East) (pictured) said the “creeping cynicism” around the safety of vaccinations is a “real national emergency”.

He said: “It’s probably worth exploring making it a criminal offence (for people) not to immunise their children; perhaps that is the next step we need to explore taking, given the critical nature of it.”

The Commons session was led by new International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, who said the rising so-called “anti-vaxxer” movement was “grossly irresponsible”.

He responded to a question from Labour MP Chris Bryant (Rhondda), who said there are politicians around the world “who preach an anti- immunisation message and that is going to lead to the unnecessary death of children”.

In his first outing at the despatch box in his new role, Mr Stewart said it was “profoundly disturbing, distinctly misleading and even ignorant to go around doing this”.

The minister added: “What it ends up doing is stoking public paranoia and fear and leading to the unnecessary loss of lives.”

His views were echoed by shadow international development secretary Dan Carden, who said the biggest threat to universal immunisation coverage is “vaccine hesitancy”.

He said the World Health Organisation has identified it as one of the top 10 major threats to global health for 2019, adding that “dangerous false stories about immunisations are routinely spread on social media”, and that companies like YouTube and Facebook are “failing to clamp down properly on those who peddle these lies”.

Mr Carden also called for tougher action to be taken, saying we must “tell the truth about immunisations” if we are to tackle this “growing public health time bomb”.

Tory MP Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) said “misinformation” about vaccines in social media needs to be tackled and that the Government needs to be “gung-ho” in preventing the spread of anti-vax material online.

Mr Burt said: “This is really scary. This works in with a phenomenon of trying to pull down authoritative sources of information, whether it is mainstream media, whether it is experts, whatever.

“It becomes popular and easy, if you want to disregard something, to try and minimise their impact and to claim that your own personal experience or anecdotal experience somehow trumps what you are being told by those who profess scientific backgrounds and are making a serious case.”

He added: “It is seriously dangerous, anti-expert, a false dilemma between liberty and the state which we can see creeping into arguments here on social media and everything. This is all highly dangerous.”

He said: “On misinformation, we do have to be aggressive, and we do have to be vigorous, and we do have to be gung-ho.”

SNP health spokeswoman Philippa Whitford said uptake of the MMR vaccine had fallen dramatically after the publication of discredited former British doctor Andrew Wakefield’s paper linking the vaccine with autism and bowel disease.

Dr Whitford said: “He has since been struck off the medical register, his research was completely discredited and yet we have President Trump in America promoting this. He is being given a platform in the US again.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.