‘Vaccine hesitancy’ public threat

When a major drive is being undertaken in India to immunise the population, a campaign against it seems to be rising, too. There is a spreading reluctance to undergo vaccination oneself and to get children vaccinated. This is called ‘vaccine hesitancy’, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has listed it as one the top 10 threats to global public health in 2019. Immunisation has eliminated some major scourges like small pox and polio, but the fear of and opposition to vaccination is increasing in some countries. Even developed countries with literate populations have seen such campaigns. The right-wing government in Italy last year lifted the rule for compulsory vaccination of school children. US President Donald Trump has publicly denounced vaccination, and anti-vaccine sentiment is strong in that country. Experts in many countries have demanded that legal action should be taken against parents who reject vaccination for their children and thus put other children at risk. 

Vaccine hesitancy may arise from various reasons, such as ignorance, complacency, difficulty in accessing vaccines, lack of confidence in the nature and efficacy of vaccines, superstitions, religious and political objections and even scepticism about science and technology. In some sections of society, it is seen as part of a State plan to control the lives of people. A report that appeared two decades ago that vaccination would lead to autism had created apprehensions. It was disproved later but the fear has persisted among some groups. 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. Social media platforms like Facebook and Google have thought of steps to counter or block such and other misinformation. 

Vaccination is an important part of India’s public health programme. Mission Indradhanush launched in 2014 and the Intensified Mission Indradhanush launched in 2017 are targeted at a range of diseases like diphtheria, polio, measles, hepatitis B and rubella. It should be ensured that the programme reaches every part of the country and every child and citizen is covered by it. There is the need to create better public awareness and to counter the disinformation campaign. The WHO has estimated that vaccines prevent up to three million deaths a year at the global level, and full coverage can prevent another 1.5 million deaths. But there are signs of some diseases staging a comeback. It must be ensured that the health gains made through decades of vaccination programmes are not lost as a result of ill-informed and motivated campaigns. 

 

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‘Vaccine hesitancy’ public threat

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