The recent measles outbreaks in North America have sparked the demand for an educated debate on vaccination ethics – and four experts on the issue of vaccines sat down on Monday to facilitate just that.
On March 23 an audience gathered in the Paul O’Regan Hall at the Halifax Central Library to attend VacciNATION?, a panel discussion hosted by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs (CCEPA) in collaboration with the Dalhousie Health Law Institute.
The panel consisted of Elaine Gibson, associate professor of law at the Schulich School of Law, Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the Canadian Center for Vaccinology, Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, and Dr. Robert Strang, chief public health officer at the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.
“It’s not a science debate about vaccinations,” said Kevin Kindred, moderator of the discussion. “The debate is really on the civil liberties and practice implications of mandatory vaccinations.”
The discussion was split into two themes, one theme dealing with mandatory vaccination for children and the general population, and the other theme dealing with mandatory vaccination in the healthcare sector for healthcare workers.
Over the course of the discussion, the ability to make informed decisions kept arising as a concern among the panelists.
“I think in general we need more public discussion around vaccination because there’s so much misinformation and myths out there,” said Strang. “I think we need to broaden the conversation and that’s what tonight was really about, bringing more of that collective societal good and so we need a more collective perspective and a collective conversation about the importance of vaccination.”
Questions from the audience covered topics like herd immunity, preventative measures, research efficacy, and risks versus benefits of vaccination.
Elaine Gibson said that herd immunity was of fundamental importance. She said that when each person gets their child vaccinated, they are participating in a collective effort for Canadian society, and that parents who did not were acting in a profoundly selfish manner.
Dr. Halperin stressed the necessity of vaccines, saying that “the only prevention for measles is either not coming in contact with human beings, or vaccine.”
At the end of the discussion, Dr. Judith Kazimirski, a CCEPA board member and a medical practitioner for over 40 years, was invited to the podium to offer closing remarks.
“I fundamentally believe that if we deny what science has given us, in terms of how do we protect ourselves against deadly disease, it’s stupidity,” said Kazimirski. “How we live matters. The issues we talked about this evening matter a great deal. And I hope that that discussion will only continue after you get out this evening.”