'Trust your nurse' over vaccination amid spread of fake news, parents urged
Parents are being urged to "trust your nurse" regarding vaccination rather than turning to fake news on social media.
In a discussion about whether mandatory vaccination should be introduced in the UK for children starting school, nurses at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) conference in Liverpool argued it was important to win over hesitant parents through education and building trust.
Nykoma Hamilton, a mother of three from the RCN's Fife branch, who proposed the debate, spoke in favour of mandatory vaccination during the discussion.
She said the "damage done" in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield's discredited research linking autism and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine had "caused serious public health carnage amongst concerned parents worried about their child's best interests".
She said: "However, even in the face of substantial and increasing evidence against this link, there is still vaccine hesitancy.
"How do we debunk these myths? Parents talk to us, trust us, this why we are here."
She said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that vaccines have prevented at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015 alone and many more people have been saved from long-term illness.
She said: "Hashtag; vaccines are safe.
"People need to engage fully in this discussion.
"We know as parents that they're scared and often quite confused about what is out in the world of social media. So trust in us, ask us about it, trust your nurse."
She said: "We often hear that it's a parent's right to make decisions about their child
"Yes, but I counter that with asking about your social responsibility.
"Vaccines cannot be given to certain groups of people such as those receiving chemotherapy, immunosuppressants - you are putting them at risk as well."
She continued: "If your child had a severe nut allergy the school would ask pupils not to bring any peanuts in. So why are we allowing children to bring preventable, communicable diseases into schools?"
Claire Picton, from the RCN's Emergency Care Association, said she was pro-vaccination but objected to language used by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
She said: "I took complete exception to Matt Hancock talking about anti-vaxxers. What sort of message is that sending to people?
"We are trying to educate people to vaccinate their children, not to make them feel that they are being bullied into something that they for whatever reason think is not right."
Linda Bailey, also from the Emergency Care Association, said: "Mandating vaccines is not the answer.
"We need to win the argument as educated and informed nurses and use the evidence we have. We've got all the evidence, we don't need to put compulsion in place.
"We need to be bold about our assertions, we need to practise from a strong evidence base. We need better education to counter fake news and we need better funding."
She said she did not believe mandatory vaccines would work in the UK, arguing it was just another soundbite for a "lightweight health secretary".
Alice Duncan, a student RCN committee member, said she did not agree with enforced vaccination, adding: "These are children that we are injecting things into their bodies.. and we're going to force them to do that?"
Marie Massey, from the RCN's GP nursing forum, said nurses needed time to talk to parents who were thinking of not vaccinating their children.
"Give the people who need to discuss this with parents the time to do it. You can't do it in a 10-minute appointment."
Meanwhile, nurse Lou Cahill said: "Mandatory vaccines are expensive in terms of legal costs and difficult to police.
"Most importantly mandatory vaccines do not educate, they do not build confidence and they do not stop the spread of fake news and propaganda.
"As nurses, let's understand the fears that lead people to choose not to vaccinate, and educate.
"Let's hold social media companies to account for not tackling the spread of fake news.
"Criminalisation is not the answer."
Earlier this month, a team of Italian researchers recommended compulsory vaccination and warned that current vaccination policies in the UK are not enough to control rising cases of measles.
Mr Hancock has said he "wouldn't rule out anything" when asked whether unvaccinated children should be banned from schools.
Children need two doses of the vaccine for protection, with WHO recommending 95% coverage to achieve herd immunity.
In the UK, uptake of the first dose of MMR exceeds 95% but drops to 88% for the second dose.
School vaccination is compulsory in Italy and France and for several disease types in the US.