A concern that resurfaced following the events of the past week that witnessed a high-profile legal fight in Australia over star tennis player Novak Djokovic’s vaccination status. Djokovic was deported after he lost the visa battle on grounds that he was unvaccinated and did not fulfil the criteria to participate in the Australian Open tournament. The incident has brought forth different viewpoints – one which argues against vaccine mandate – saying getting vaccinated is a freedom of choice, and this is what supporters of Djokovic worldwide have also been asserting. While the other point of view is that vaccination is the only and the best way to end the pandemic and the global misery it has caused.
- WHO defines Vaccine hesitancy as a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination service. Vaccine hesitancy has been reported in more than 90% of countries in the world.
- Globally nearly 4, 24,000 children have confirmed measles in 2019, as against a figure of 1, 73,000 in the whole of 2018.
- In India, poor communities of Uttar Pradesh were reported to have taken five times low uptake of oral polio vaccine in the early 2000s.
Reasons for Vaccine Hesitancy
- Religious propaganda that the vaccine may contain microbes, chemicals and animal-derived products which is forbidden by religious laws.
- Social media is used in stirring fear in people by falsely blaming vaccines for unrelated diseases is the bedrock of the Vaccine hesitancy all across the globe.
- For example, recently some sections in India are refraining from the polio vaccine. This is due to the misconception that the polio vaccine caused illness, infertility and was ineffective.
- Vaccine-derived diseases: Oral Polio Vaccines (OPV) contains weakened but live poliovirus. This virus from the vaccine is excreted by immunized children which can move from one person to another.
- This allows the virus to stick around and mutate to a more virulent form, raising the threat of vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV).
- Inconvenience in accessing vaccines is also the leading cause of Vaccine hesitancy.
Steps that can be taken to address vaccine hesitancy in India:
- Vaccination as the default approach: Some countries have implemented specific sanctions for Vaccine hesitant families. Eg:France has made 11 vaccines mandatory for children—unvaccinated children cannot be enrolled at nurseries or schools. In Australia, parents of children who are not vaccinated are denied the universal Family Allowance welfare payments.
- Building trust: Vaccine manufacturer can provide honest information about side effects and reassurance on a robust vaccine safety system.
- They can also provide vaccination-related FAQ’s, answering questions on benefits, safety, and immunologic aspects of vaccines and links to a number of online resources for physicians and parents.
- Digital Algorithms: Google, Facebook and other such platforms can be requested to make sure that users only get to see the credible, science-based information about the vaccines.
- Misinformation need to be addressed: A 2018 study found low awareness to be the main reason why 45% of children missed different vaccinations in 121 Indian districts that have higher rates of unimmunized children.
While 24% did not get vaccinated due to apprehension about adverse effects, 11% were reluctant to get immunized for reasons other than fear of adverse effects.
- The influential person or celebrities should come forward to dispel the myths leading to Vaccine hesitancy.
- Use of Persuasion – through advertising by role models,
- Awareness generation among masses
- Use of Legitimate and expert sources to provide awareness.
- Use of incentives to boost vaccination drives.
Vaccine hesitancy is threatening the historical achievements made in reducing the burden of infectious diseases, which have plagued humanity for centuries. A collaborative effort between paediatricians, family doctors, parents, public health officials, governments, the technology sector, and civil society will allow myths and misinformation around vaccination to be dispelled.