A six-year-old boy has died in Girona in Catalonia after suffering with diphtheria for the past month. He was put on a life support machine in the ICU of a Barcelona hospital shortly after admission as his condition worsened, but doctors hoped that he might have been saved. Sadly this was not the case, and police say that they are now considering whether to take action against the people who persuaded his parents that he should not receive the diphtheria vaccine; they are not considering prosecuting the parents themselves, who are said to be distraught that they allowed themselves to be persuaded to refuse the vaccination against medical advice.

Medics and politicians alike have spoken strongly against those who argue against vaccinations. They say that viruses and bacteria still exist even if the diseases they cause are said to have been “eradicated”. In medical terms, this means that the disease has been wiped out through vaccinations, and is kept at bay because of vaccine programmes. There is no reason that an “eradicated” disease cannot reappear if the vacination programme falls by the wayside. In Spain, diphtheria had not been seen for 30 years, and disappeared specifically after the public health vaccination programme introduced in 1987.

In this outbreak, eight other children in the same area also contracted diphtheria, but they all recovered: all had been vaccinated. The government says that Spain needs to reflect on whether vaccination should be compulsory, but that meanwhile, any parents of unvaccinated children should take steps to ensure their child’s safety by complying with medical advice to have the vaccination. In the Canaries, vaccination coverage is at 95%, so most children will be safe, having received the so-called called triple vaccine (tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough) as part of the general programme which includes polio, hepatitis B and HiB (haemophilus influenza). Where cover is so high, moreover, Sanidad says that an outbreak is “extremely unlikely”, but that any parents who are concerned that their child might not be covered should seek advice from their doctor.

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