Vaccines are recognised as one of the most successful and important tools to protect people and to ensure public health. However, an increasing number of people perceive vaccination as unnecessary and even question its safety. These individuals are hesitant or deny vaccinating themselves and their family fearing possible side effects.
There has been a paradigm shift in healthcare. The power was transferred to patients, as they now can access all kind of information within seconds. Online research and social media are much more convenient than going to the doctor or reading medical articles. Nevertheless, it can be very dangerous.
All these factors contributed to the creation of an environment in which there is a wide and fast spread of opinions. Internet allows people to expose their views without filters. In this way, misinformation emerges, as groups like anti-vaccination believers take advantage and divulge falsehoods that can lead to physical injuries or even death.
Anti-vaccination defends many theories that have constantly been debunked by science. It is believed that vaccines are toxic and can lead to several diseases such as autism.
This belief started in 1998, when a study made by Andrew Wakefield claimed there was a link between MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. His work was considered fraudulent, the paper was retracted, and he was banned from practicing medicine in the UK. However, Wakefield moved to the U.S. and is now travelling around the country revealing his theory and influencing crowds.
Donald Trump agrees with this view and invited this doctor to his inaugural ball. Also, he has tweeted about it more than 20 times. In 2015, before being elected, he affirmed during a Republican debate that the child of one of his employees developed autism after being vaccinated. Since being elected, Trump has remained silent about this matter.
Countless studies proved otherwise, however this belief has persisted for decades and generated doubt and fear. This hesitancy lead to such low vaccination coverage, that it is far from the 95% needed to prevent measles outbreaks.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global number of measles cases increased more than 30%, since 2016. In 2017, there were 110 000 measles deaths worldwide.
Just in Europe, where people can easily access vaccines and information, there were 82 596 cases of measles. In 2018, 72 deaths were registered in European countries alone. These are shocking numbers as there is a vaccine that can prevent this disease. Moreover, it is estimated by this organization that measles vaccination has prevented about 21.1 million deaths globally, since 2000.
The way people see public institutions is also changing. This, combined with the nature of the Internet, allowed the advent of conspiracy theories. For instance, it is considered that the government and the pharmaceutical industry have unknown interests and are hiding “the truth” from citizens.
It is very worrying knowing that people believe this and spread it worldwide.
Vaccine hesitancy is considered one of the biggest threats to global health in 2019, by WHO: “Vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines – threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved”.
So, it is crucial to fight health misinformation, as it is a risk to our health.
Kata, A. (2010). A postmodern Pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet. Vaccine, 28(7), 1709–1716.
Kata, A. (2012). Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm – An overview of tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement. Vaccine, 30(25), 3778–3789.