The anti-vaccination trend has landed next to HIV and Ebola as a key global threat, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Experts say “vaccine hesitancy” risks reversing progress in fighting preventable diseases.
Although various diseases that can be prevented by vaccines, such as diphtheria and meningitis, were on WHO’s health threat lists before, in 2019 the organization included “vaccine hesitancy.” Among other top 10 threats are HIV/AIDS, the global influenza pandemic, along with the spread of the deadly Ebola virus and Dengue fever, as well as air pollution, lack of primary care and noncommunicable diseases like diabetes.
Vaccination remains one of the most “cost-effective” ways to avoid infection, WHO stated, and refusing it directly threatens to cancel out the progress made in fighting preventable diseases.
The WHO listed “complacency” and “lack of confidence” among the key reasons why people reject vaccines. Anti-vaxxers usually say they fear the side effects, in particular the possibility of developing autism, although some cite conspiracy theories about big pharma and governments.
This attitude has already contributed to the recent measles outbreak, which has gone up 30 percent globally, WHO said. The organization earlier reported that measles outbreaks due to “gaps in vaccination coverage” killed 110,000 people in 2017. Experts are alarmed to see the disease spreading, even in nations that until recently were on the verge of completely eliminating it.
Nadezhda Yuminova of the Moscow-based Vaccine and Serum Research Institute told RT that the anti-vaccination movement “may be relatively small but leads to very serious consequences.”
Yuminova said the activity of its campaigners, especially when amplified by the media, can wipe out the earlier “tremendous successes” of fighting highly-contagious diseases in Europe. Rejection of vaccination can not only lead to death, but deliver a blow to the “collective immunity” of people in the area. Doctors say that individuals whose health does not allow them to be vaccinated rely on “collective immunity” for their protection from diseases.
Katrine Habersaat, form WHO’s Vaccine-prevented Diseases and Immunization programme, warned about the dangers of spreading “anti-vaccination misinformation.”
“When some people advocate actively against vaccination using information that is not evidence-based nor supported by scientific consensus to create fear and distrust and to discourage others from vaccinating, this has potential to lower vaccination uptake and consequently threaten public health,” she told RT.
The public debate on vaccines has been reignited in recent years in developed countries, with celebrities like Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy joining the ranks of the skeptics, and pushback has increased.
Legislators in Europe frequently mull the idea of mandatory vaccination. Yet specialists believe countries need to have sufficient political commitment to cover gaps in coverage. Habersaat named “vaccine stock outs,” poor access to services and training of health workers who could advocate for vaccination, delays and refusal to vaccinate as reasons that led to the spikes of diseases such as measles.
Australia has introduced punitive measures against parents who do not vaccinate their children. In June, billboards were put up in Perth promoting American anti-vaccination group ‘Learn the Risk’. It caused an uproar in the media, and the campaign was heavily criticized by the nation’s government officials.