With so much conflicting information out there about the benefits and possible risks of immunisation, it's no surprise that a lot of parents remain uneasy about vaccinating their children. The truth is that while a serious reaction to a vaccine is possible, it's very, very unlikely - the odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are roughly the same.
Now, parents in Ontario, Canada could be forced to attend an evidence-based course in vaccination science if they refuse to get their kids immunised. Health Minister Eric Hoskins has tabled the bill, which could be passed in time for the start of the next school year.
As Ashley Csanady of The National Post reports, the classes are intended to present the facts to those objecting to vaccinations on religious or moral grounds. Parents will still have the choice to remove their children from the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) immunisation programme, but public health workers will get the chance to state their case first.
Thanks to the 'herd immunity' effect - where a large proportion of healthy people are able to create a bubble of protection around vulnerable individuals - vaccinations don't just help the children who receive them but also those who aren't old or healthy enough to get the same jab, a point Hoskins has emphasised.
"Choosing to vaccinate your child protects them from disease, and it protects vulnerable children who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons," he said in a statement. "That's why it's important for parents to keep their children's immunisations up to date."
With celebrity figures like Jenny McCarthy and Robert de Niro adding credibility to the idea that MMR vaccines can cause autism (something there's no scientific evidence for) it's easy for parents to become unnecessarily worried about immunisation, but if kids aren't protected, the health of the whole community suffers.
The Post reports that Canadian authorities want to remove confusion, straighten out any misinformation, and calm fears before parents make a final choice. They won't be brainwashed into immunising their kids, just given the facts.
Parents disgruntled at being sent back to school for a lesson on vaccination should be thankful they're not in Uganda, where there's the possibility of a jail sentence for those who don't take part in immunisation schemes. The rather extreme step was taken earlier this year to stop the spread of deadly diseases like polio and meningitis.
And that's another part of the problem - we've become so accustomed to a healthy population, largely free from measles, whooping cough, polio, and other illnesses, that we've forgotten just how dangerous these threats are. Immunisation has slashed the rates of infection for these diseases, and the Canadian government is keen to keep it that way.