The immunisation debate

According to the World Health Organisation, vaccine hesitancy is one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. Vaccines save over two million lives every year, so why are Scotland’s vaccination rates declining? Saskia Harper investigates.

Scotland has consistently high rates of vaccination, meeting the target of 95 per cent uptake year after year. However, in 2018, the vaccination rate was 95.3 per cent: a sharp fall from 97.4 per cent in 2012.

The debate surrounding whether or not to vaccinate has been discussed since vaccinations came into effect. However, it has picked up traction over recent years, which could be one of the factors accounting for the falling rates of vaccination.


A vaccine is a type of medication that is used to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, such as measles, polio and flu.

A small, harmless amount of the virus is injected into the body. This causes you to produce antibodies, which fight off the disease. If the virus from the real disease attacks, being vaccinated means you already have the antibodies to fight it off, and usually don’t get sick. In effect, you are immune from catching the disease.

When the majority of people are vaccinated, it protects the people in the community who aren’t vaccinated, as there is no way for the disease to reach them. This is known as herd immunity, and is why targets of 95 per cent vaccine uptake are in place.

Some people cannot get vaccinated, for example, those who are allergic to vaccine ingredients, or children who have had chemotherapy, as their immune system has been compromised. The more people that are vaccinated, the safer individuals who cannot be vaccinated are.


One of the biggest obstacles preventing more vaccinations from taking place is the idea that vaccines cause autism.

In 1998, a doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published research that demonstrated a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. This caused a huge decline in the number of vaccinations in the immediate aftermath.

Since Wakefield published his research, his paper has been discredited, he has been struck off as a doctor, and researchers around the world have spent millions of pounds undertaking analysis. Research carried out in 2019 on over 650,000 children revealed the MMR vaccine does not cause autism, or any other spectrum disorder.


Vaccination contents have caused concern amongst parents with worries on the impact ingredients may have on their child.

Some ingredients are used as adjuvants: meaning they help the body recognise the vaccine better and create a more efficient immune response. Aluminium is one of these ingredients, however, in the UK, the highest dose of aluminium babies receive in one go is under 1.5 milligrams – roughly the same amount present in a litre of baby formula.

Others are used as stabilisers, to help preserve the vaccine, including gelatine and thiomersal (mercury). It’s cheaper for the NHS to produce the vaccines if they include stabilisers, as they last longer. However, if you’re willing to pay, you can request a gelatine-free vaccine. Thiomersal is no longer used in any UK routine vaccines, meaning all routine vaccines are mercury-free.

Some ingredients may sound scary, but are actually very safe. Formaldehyde is a chemical used in the production of some vaccines, to kill toxins and bacteria from the virus. It’s then diluted out of the vaccine, but trace amounts may remain. Humans produce about 1.5 ounces of formaldehyde every day, as a natural part of metabolism: much more than is found in a vaccine.

It’s also important to note that vaccines don’t contain anti-freeze. A chemical called ethylene glycol can be found in anti-freeze, which has caused confusion, as polyethylene glycol is the ingredient found in vaccines. Polyethylene glycol can also be found in laxatives, toothpaste, skin cream and personal lubricants.


It cannot be denied that, like all medicines, there can be side effects to vaccines, and chances they may not be able to completely protect you from diseases. However, it’s clear that vaccinating is the safest, most effective way to protect yourself, and those around you, from these harmful diseases.

And, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, we all have one thing in common: we all want our children to be happy, healthy and safe.


There’s currently a huge public debate ongoing about vaccinations. We spoke to one parent, to learn about their experience with vaccinations.


Tina Bailey

“My aunt passed away from measles in the 1950s, so I had the personal experience of knowing of someone who had lost their life to measles. For that reason, I was always adamant that my first-born would be immunised.

“I wanted to make an informed decision. I did a lot of internet research. Make sure you look at reputable websites. Don’t just
Google the risks and side effects. There are so many scaremongering websites out there, but none are proven as reliable sources. It’s very much a case of making sure you’re reading proven facts, not somebody’s opinion.

“I think for a lot of people, especially those who haven’t been around people with additional needs, it’s something that, in their mind, why take the risk? My son Sam is autistic, but I think autism and vaccines are two separate things. For me, it is better to have a child that’s alive, with or without issues, than a child who isn’t alive.”

We reached out to speak to an anti-vaxxer, but none were available to comment for the article.

It’s important to do your own research when looking into the vaccination debate. You can find more information at or

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