Saturday, 12 May 2012

Vaccinations and Beneficiary Bashing

And now the government is considering penalising beneficiaries who don't immunise their children.

Just as I believe access to free contraception is a good thing, I think vaccination is a good thing. I believe parents should adhere to the regular vaccinations schedules, except in rare and specific cases.

This has nothing to do with vaccinations.

If the goal was to make sure all children were vaccinated, as well as making it easier for parents and dispelling some of the myths, the government could consider a policy like that in some regions of the US where children are unable to attend school if unvaccinated. I have significant concerns about such a policy. But what it would do is (a) put pressure on parents (all parents) to have their children vaccinated, and for those who didn't limit the potential for communication of diseases to other students. That would be the more sensible policy for a government concerned about vaccination rates.

This has nothing to do with vaccinations.

But it is quite clever. On the one hand, it's the usual beneficiary bashing, introduction of nasty punitive measures, and the implied slur that beneficiaries are irresponsible, illogical people who don't care about the health of their children (just like they're apparently all sluts who are popping out one child after another to play the taxpayer, or something).

But I think there's something else going on. There's been an outbreak of whooping cough in my low-income suburb. Obviously lack of vaccination is a significant contributor, as is sheer chance, but it also thrives in crowded conditions. There's a reason it happens in places like this rather than wealthy suburbs, and it ain't because parents are stupid.

Rheumatic fever - for which there is no vaccination - affects young Maori people at vastly disproportionate rates. Preventative measures, however, are well known and documented, including less overcrowding and better quality housing. And that's not even touching asthma rates and severity, depression and repeated contraction of minor illnesses.

But rather than tackling these, the focus seems to be not just on the beneficiary bashing, but on the framing of health issues amongst beneficiaries as issues of personal irresponsibility and ignorance, rather than a public health issue which needs to be tackled on a structural level. And facilitates both the bashing and the sticking-one's-head-in-the-sand.

So yes, parents, it's generally a good idea to vaccinate your children. But to the government, what would be a good idea for you to do is to stop screwing people over, quit the beneficiary bashing and start tackling the fact that (poor, Maori and Pacific Island in particular) families are living in shitty, cold, uninsulated, overcrowded housing, and it's doing no-one's health any good.


AnneE said...

Very well put, thank you - you get across neatly and exactly what's wrong with these "targeted" campaigns.

Icarus said...

"But what it would do is (a) put pressure on parents (all parents) to have their children vaccinated, "

It's really hard to think of any form of pressure which couldn't more easily be ignored/averted by high income families as low income families.

Unless by "put pressure" you just mean "raise awareness/educate", which is easily ignored/averted by people of all incomes.

anthea said...

Icarus - yes, that's true, as it is with speeding fines and all kinds of other things. I'm not advocating such a policy. However it would be a general push towards universal vaccination, rather than singling out beneficiaries for no good reason.