Insights into Editorial: Caution: Vaccine misinformation could be injurious to public health
Recent Incident, Facebook said it would step-in to curb misinformation on vaccines. The move followed anti-vaxx campaigners using social media to spread the fear of vaccines and the risk of links to autism.
Earlier in Feb-march, an international study had said that children who had been given the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella were not at a greater risk of getting autism.
Nearly a million children die every year, mostly from preventable diseases. Safe water and nutrition will greatly help, but immunisation is the most direct, doable and cost-effective weapon.
What is vaccine hesitancy?
The WHO defines ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines and it threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Vaccines are effective preventive tools in a government’s public health kit and it is accepted as among the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease.
Calling out vaccine hesitancy as public health threat, the WHO pointed out that measles had seen a 30 per cent increase in cases globally.
The reasons for this rise are complex and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy. However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence.
Vaccine hesitancy: one of 10 threats to global health this year:
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.
Measles, for example, has seen a 30% increase in cases globally. The reasons for this rise are complex, and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy.
In 2019, WHO will ramp up work to eliminate cervical cancer worldwide by increasing coverage of the HPV vaccine, among other interventions.
WHO and partners are committed to supporting many countries to vaccinate every last child to eradicate this crippling disease for good.
Concern of Vaccine Hesitancy is Real or Fake?
Feeding these concerns are unresolved controversies like the one involving polio vaccines and the emergence of Type-2 polio in Uttar Pradesh last year.
The tragic incident in Hyderabad last week, where a child died and more than 20 others were reportedly hospitalised following treatment given after a vaccine was administered.
Though reports suggest that the death was not vaccine related, it will add to the anxiety around a routine vaccination programme.
Vaccine hesitancy is listed by the World Health Organisation as one of 10 threats to global health this year.
A sense of mistrust seems to underpin the growing concerns being expressed on the MMR vaccine in India, or the outright “anti-vaxx” campaigns seen overseas.
And however minimal or localised these incidents may be, health authorities are worried that it could negatively impact genuine public health and immunisation campaigns.
Against this backdrop, doctors and public health experts are calling for focussed efforts to address parent and community fears with scientific evidence, and tackle vaccine half-truths fanned by social media.
Mission Indradhanush has given a booster shot to the Universal Immunisation Programme. The new Measles-Rubella (MR) Vaccine component, with a targeted 410 million children from 9 months to 15 years, is slated to be the next big leap after polio eradication.
Vaccine Hesitancy has been spread rapid in India:
Progressive states like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu too have witnessed instances of vaccine hesitancy. Parents have expressed reservations on the MMR vaccine and the measles-rubella vaccines, respectively.
Social media has played a role in spreading these fears and even panic. Vaccinators have been attacked in some districts like Malappuram in Kerala.
There was even a rumour campaign which claimed that vaccinations would make Muslim children infertile and that vaccines are pork-based.
While it is right for parents to have a healthy scepticism, they should equip themselves with information from the right sources including doctors, Health Ministry representatives or authentic sources like the WHO website and not gather information from social media.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Google have thought of steps to counter or block such and other misinformation.
Public health experts point to India’s success in tackling polio through an intensive immunisation programme. The success of these programmes lies in react quickly and honestly in cases of vaccine related episodes. Remove apprehensions quickly.
The WHO expects 2019 to see transmission of wild polio virus being stopped in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well. Less than 30 cases were reported last year in both countries, the WHO says, casting its might behind their vaccination programme.
“trust in the vaccine, trust in Government, trust in the system and trust in the manufacturer.”
Parents should raise questions on vaccines, its necessity and safety. But it is up to the Government and doctors to keep this communication with parents ongoing, transparent and scientific so that benefits to the child and larger community are not lost in misinformation.
Empower paediatricians to project the value of vaccines and equip them to respond to concerns effectively and accurately. Sensitise media to an evidence based rather than sensational approach.