When John Enders created the original measles vaccine in 1963, it marked a reversal in rates of infection in every country it was introduced. By the year 2000, measles had been eliminated in the United States of America entirely. However, in the past number of years, there has been a marked increase in the number of measles cases, as well as other preventable diseases, across the world.
In 2016, the number of reported cases of measles in Europe was 5273. By 2018, that number had risen to 41000, according to the World Health Organization. A measles outbreak in Washington was declared a state of emergency in January 2019. 130 people in the Philippines have died due to the illness as of February 2019.
This increase in outbreaks has mainly been attributed to the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement. These are groups of people who believe vaccines cause autism, death, and other illnesses, rather than preventing infectious diseases. The movement was catalysed by the publication of what is now described as the most fraudulent pieces of research in modern medicine. The study, led by the now discredited physician, Andrew Wakefield suggested that the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine caused autism in children. The study was dubious from the outset, as it only involved twelve children and all cases featured some sort of misreporting. Even after the research was retracted and Wakefield had been stripped of his medical licence, the risk of causing autism is still one of the main reasons anti-vaxxers refuse to have their children immunised.
As a movement, they have become quiet prominent on social media, which has added momentum to the spread of their ideas. Anti-vax groups pay for targeted ads online and aim them at new parents. Over half of new parents have seen misleading information regarding vaccines on social media. Governments have attempted to combat the spread of this ‘fake news’ and stop the decline in the rates of vaccination. The UK Advertising Standards Authority has censured ads by certain anti-vax groups for spreading misinformation. France has made vaccinations mandatory for all children. Similarly, Italy has banned non-vaccinated children from attending state schools.
The World Health Organization reported vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019, stating that it “threatens to reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases”.
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Image courtesy of Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr