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People divided on banning unvaccinated children from schools

Most people agree with this stance but almost one in five are unsure, according to an opinion poll.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shuttersotck/adriaticfoto

PEOPLE ARE DIVIDED on whether or not children who are not vaccinated should be banned from schools.

Most people agree with this stance but almost one in five are unsure, according to an opinion poll.

More than 1,000 adults were recently surveyed by Ámarach Research for Claire Byrne Live.

Of this, 44% of people said they agreed with banning children who are not vaccinated from attending schools; 38% disagreed and 18% were unsure.

There has been a huge surge in measles cases in Ireland and internationally in the last year.

To date in 2019, there have been 38 reported measles cases in Ireland. Of this, 19 have been confirmed, 15 are possible and four are probable.

There were 77 reported cases here in 2018, based on provisional figures, up from 25 in 2017.

measles Source: HSE/HPSC

People of all ages have been affected, but most cases relate to children under the age of four. Two outbreaks have been confirmed so far this year – in Donegal and north Dublin.

Measles is a highly infectious illness and spreads very easily. The uptake rate for the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is quite high in Ireland – about 92% – but this has varied over the years.

The HSE’s goal is to reach a rate of at least 95%, the level needed for herd immunity – whereby people who can’t be vaccinated for health reasons rely on those around them being vaccinated to prevent the spread of conditions such as measles.

All children are entitled to, and advised to, get the MMR vaccine at the age of 12 months. They are supposed to get a second dose when four or five (in junior infants). Adults who are not sure if they received the vaccine as a child are advised to contact their GP to check and discuss getting a booster if needed. 

‘Constant battle’ 

Some of the reluctance by parents to vaccinate their children stems from an erroneous claim that linked the MMR vaccine to autism and other conditions. This claim can be traced back to a 1998 study by former British doctor Andrew Wakefield which was later retracted and debunked.

Dr Mary Ward, who works in the Public Health section of HSE East, previously told TheJournal.ie dealing with misinformation spread by the anti-vaccine movement is a “constant battle”.

Her advice in this regard is straightforward:

Don’t listen to people who are not medically qualified or don’t have a medical background.

Ward said there are “pluses and minuses” to mandatory vaccination, describing it as “a road that hasn’t been explored” in Ireland.

She said the HSE instead focuses on providing people with accurate information so they can make informed decisions about vaccinations. 

Ward added that many of the childcare facilities the HSE works with already request that children who attended their facilities are vaccinated.


Vaccinating children against conditions such as measles is mandatory in a number of countries. Earlier this month, Italy’s government reinstated a law banning children from attending crèches and nursery schools if they have not been vaccinated.

The law makes it compulsory for children in pre-school education to be vaccinated against 10 diseases including measles, tetanus and polio. Parents in Italy, as in a number of other countries, face fines for not vaccinating their children.

In a number of US states, every student entering or attending a public or private school has to be vaccinated against a range of conditions including measles, mumps and rubella. However, there are medical, religious and personal exemptions to the law.

Some states are currently looking into getting rid of the personal exemption – California did this back in 2015 after an outbreak of measles which began at Disneyland subsequently spread to other parts of the US and Canada.

During the week, a New York suburb declared a state of emergency following an outbreak of measles.

Officials in Rockland County – with a population of 300,000 people and roughly 40km north of New York City – have banned unvaccinated children from entering public places “with a congregation of more than 10 people” as well as banning them from using public transport. The ban is set to be lifted after 30 days.

Australia is known for taking a particular tough stance in relation to non-vaccination under rules sometimes referred to as ‘no jab, no play’.

Parents face large fines and could lose up to $15,000 (over €9,000) in benefits if they don’t vaccinate their children. And schools and daycare centres face larger fines if they allow a child who isn’t vaccinated to attend.

136,000 deaths in 2018 

A recent Unicef report noted that 98 countries around the world reported an increase in measles cases in 2018.

The World Health Organization said cases worldwide soared by nearly 50% in 2018, killing around 136,000 people. There were at least 72 measles-related deaths in Europe in 2018, up from 42 in 2017, but none in Ireland.

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The increase in cases, both in Ireland and abroad, was examined on TheJournal.ie’s The Explainer podcast earlier this month.

Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud


What are the symptoms of measles?

  • High fever
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Red eyes
  • Red rash that starts on the head and spreads down the body – this normally starts a few days after onset of illness; the rash consists of flat red or brown blotches, which can flow into each other; it lasts about four to seven days
  • Vomiting, diarrhoea and tummy pain may also happen

Measles can cause chest infections, fits (seizures), ear infections, swelling of the brain and/or damage to the brain.

The Department of Health gives the following advice in relation to the MMR vaccine:

  • All children should get the MMR vaccine when they are aged 12 months; if any child aged over 12 months has missed this vaccine they should get it now from their GP
  • All children should get a second dose of MMR vaccine when they are four to five years old or in junior infants at school; if any child in senior infants or older has missed this vaccine they should get it now from their GP
  • Adults under 40 years who have not had measles or have not received two doses of MMR vaccine should contact their GP to get the MMR vaccine
  • Adults over 40 years of age may sometimes be at risk and if such adults never had measles nor a measles-containing vaccine they should consider getting the MMR vaccine from their GP

What advice does the HSE give to people who think they might have measles?

  • Do not go to work, school or crèche
  • Stay at home and phone your GP; tell the doctor or nurse that you think you might have measles
  • Stop visitors coming to your home
  • Pregnant women who have been exposed to measles should seek medical advice as soon as possible

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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