This week the BBC reported on the the risks associated with the use of alternative therapies instead of conventional medicine 1. There is no scientific proof to support the efficacy of homeopathy 3, and so many people are not obtaining correct information, leading to them being misled by the scientific sounding claims of alternative medicine such as homeopathy, and so not receiving potentially life saving vaccinations. This trend has developed since the MMR scare of 1998 2, in which autism was suggested to be linked to the Measles Mumps and Rubella vaccination, this was later disproved in several large scale studies. However the damage had already been done, parents feared for there children's safety and so chose not to vaccinate there children. Since then, measles has seen a huge resurgence within the UK, leading to 10 fold increase in the number of cases, and reports of mumps increasing to almost 5,000 cases in per year. Vaccination is very important for 2 reasons, firstly it protects the individual from a potentially lethal disease, like Measles or Polio. Secondly, when roughly 95% of the population is vaccinated this stops deadly pandemics and epidemics from forming, because the number of people vaccinated create a 'herd immunity'. Herd immunity protects the few people who are not vaccinated, because the number of susceptible people is not sufficient to allow the disease to spread.
The report from the BBC highlights the fact that many people are becoming misled by pseudoscience and in doing so are attempting to protect there children from 'unnecessary medicine' and use more 'natural alternatives', however these are not alternatives, because they are putting their child at unnecessary risk of serious illness and death. This would not be such a problem if people choosing homeopathic vaccinations only made up a small percentage of the population, because then they would be protected from herd immunity. But in the recent years the use of alternative medicine has seen a dramatic increase, leaving the population vulnerable to a resurgence in diseases almost eradicated in previous generations, due to the lack of herd immunity in the current population. One of the main problems is due to the misunderstand of what homeopathy actually is, and this is compounded by the fact that the NHS offers homeopathic treatments 4. The reasoning behind this varies, but it is suggested that for mild problems where no effective treatment is available, homeopathy can be offered, and can be seen as effective in some cases due to the placebo effect 5. However this is a topic for another day.
E Markham (2010). Homeopathic Hazard blogspot