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Come on everyone, roll up your sleeves

Dr david turner duo 3x2

‘Oh I’m not having my child immunised, I’m relying on herd immunity’

Of all the ill-informed, nonsensical and illogical things some patients say, this phrase managed to red line my anger like nothing before or since.

I have a few times in my career come across parents similarly refusing to vaccinate their children because they don’t want to expose their child to the (miniscule) risk of vaccination, but are quite prepared to allow their child to benefit from the fact enough other children in their offspring’s cohort have been vaccinated to give herd immunity.

The reason this makes steam come out of my ears is that a parent who talks about the protective effect of herd immunity has clearly read up on and understood something about vaccination – enough to know how important it is that every child who can be gets vaccinated.

If you don’t want to take your blood pressure pills, fair enough… but by not being vaccinated you are putting other people at risk

I can forgive stupidity or ignorance, but it’s hard not to be judgemental when someone is refusing to vaccinate a child because of an imagined risk, while understanding how vaccination works and is safe.

Most things in medicine are about the patient and the patient only. If you don’t want to take your blood pressure pills or statin, as long as you fully understand the risks, fair enough it’s your stroke or heart attack to have and that doesn’t directly affect anybody else’s health. Vaccination however is different. By not being vaccinated you are putting other people at risk.

A child could be incubating mumps or measles and next to them in the waiting room could be an immunosuppressed patient. I do believe in freedom of choice, but I also believe if you want to benefit from a free, state provided health service you have certain obligations – and not knowingly doing harm to other patients is surely up at the top.

Many European countries do not allow children to enrol in state schools unless evidence of vaccination is provided. I see no reason why we should not introduce a similar system here.

And while we are at it, for the same reason, I would make it a condition of service that all NHS employees have an annual flu jab, as many still refuse. You know who you are.

Dr David Turner is a GP in west London