Every year the World Health Organization (WHO) releases an annual roundup of the gravest threats to global health. The 2019 top 10 list includes (for the first time) the growing resistance to vaccination, a threat the group listed alongside Ebola and air pollution.
WHO SAGE Vaccine Hesitancy Working Group report defines vaccine hesitancy is as follows:
“Vaccine hesitancy refers to delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services. Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific varying across time, place and vaccines. It includes factors such as complacency, convenience and confidence.”
Most of the people who are refusing vaccination have subscribed to conspiratorial worldviews. Therefore, they disregard any word from traditional authority figures such as doctors or public health researchers because they believe them to be false or intentionally misleading. This sort of mentality has become a harmful and complex problem. There is no available evidence that vaccines are ineffective or unsafe.
Yet, anti-vaxxers are persistent in their belief that they must refuse vaccines for safety and well-being. It is quite the contrary. There is overwhelming evidence that vaccines have saved millions of lives, and even removed the threat of some lethal diseases completely from entire multi-country regions.
“There is arguably no single preventive health intervention more cost-effective than immunization.” – WHO
The value of vaccines and immunization to prevent and control a large number of infectious diseases and, increasingly, several chronic diseases that are caused by infectious agents is massive. Vaccinations prevent the suffering and death associated with infectious diseases such as diarrhea, measles, pneumonia, polio and whooping-cough. In doing so, nations don’t have to spend time and recourses dealing with life-threatening sicknesses. They are able to focus on other crucial priorities instead, like education and economic development.
Health workers, especially those in communities, remain the most trusted advisors and influences of vaccination decisions. Steps have to be taken so these people understand the extent and nature of hesitancy at a local level, on a continuing basis, and the global effects the reluctance has. They have to be supported to provide trusted, credible information on vaccines.
The WHO explains:
“Communities also need to be at the center of drives to improve the quality of immunization and health services, access and equity. The linkages between health systems and communities are inter-dependent and thus systems should engage directly with communities in face-to-face interactions. This participatory process can play a role in improving the quality of services in such a way that builds trust and demonstrates respect, with broader benefits for immunization coverage.”
Benefits of Immunization:
- Immunization currently prevents between 2–3 million deaths every year making it one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions. If global vaccination coverage improves, an additional 1.5 million deaths could be avoided.
- Meningitis A (an infection that can cause severe brain damage and is often deadly) epidemics have been nearly eliminated in Africa through immunization.
- Global measles (a highly contagious disease caused by a virus, which usually results in a high fever and rash, and can lead to blindness, encephalitis or death) mortality has declined by 84%. The number of mortalities has dropped from around 550 000 deaths in 2000 to 89,780 in 2016.
- The region of the Americas has been declared free of measles making it the first place in the world to have completely eliminated measles. This achievement is thanks to a 22-year effort involving mass vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella throughout the Americas.
- In 2016, fewer children were paralyzed by polio than in any other year in history. A few regions like India and South-East Asia have even been declared polio-free.
- Maternal and neonatal tetanus has been eliminated in the WHO Regions of the Americas, Europe, and South-East Asia. Tetanus cannot be fully eradicated because the bacterium that causes the disease exists throughout the environment in soil and the feces of many different animals. Therefore, the disease can only be prevented through hygienic birth practices and immunization.
- Vaccines serve as a frontline defense against antimicrobial resistance by preventing the need for antibiotics from the start. This is especially important today as it is one of the worlds growing health concerns – the global increase in disease caused by drug-resistant bacteria due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics. If people are immune to infections and don’t need to take antibiotics, it will drastically slow down antimicrobial resistance.
The world faces so many health challenges… people refusing immunization should not be one of them! Such behavior is not only dangerous for the individual, but also for everyone else because bodies that are not immune are vessels for the spreading of infectious disease.