By Dr. Calvin A. Omolo (Assistant Professor Pharmaceutics -USIU- Africa)
Human beings have benefited from vaccines for more than two centuries. Immunization, begun after Edward Jenner created the world’s first vaccine for smallpox in the 1790s.
Data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Sandra W. Roush and her team indicated that a greater than 92 percent decline in cases and a 99 percent or greater decline in deaths due to diseases prevented by vaccines such as for diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, and tetanus since the WHO recommendation of extended vaccination 1980.
Since the turn of the 20th century, mandatory vaccination has been one of the greatest weapons in battling, preventing outbreaks and eradicating certain diseases.
Vaccine skepticism that began in 1998 has eroded the gain made by extended vaccination and has been growing since. Vaccine skepticism began when gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield and 12 colleagues published an article in The Lancet that suggested the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine might predispose children to “behavioral regression and pervasive development disorder known as autism.”
The sample size for their study was only 12 children and the publication were found to have a flawed study design and the results and conclusion were found to be speculative without concrete evidence.
Even after the research being discredited many salient issues related to the vaccines such as safety, public fears of inoculating agents in children’s have frequently reappeared, and this has led to the birth of the antivaxxers and conspiracy theorist.
The antivaxxers have been pushing their antivaccination populism to new dangerous levels worldwide.
In Nigeria, the extremist group Boko Haram have been reported to murder vaccination workers, and frightened families out of having their babies being vaccinated. In the West, white supremacist and far-right sites are spreading antivaccination information.
Religion has not helped either in Kenya. Some religious organisations in the country have advocated for boycott of vaccination as they claim they are a tool for birth control from the West.
Conspiracy theorist have joined the bandwagon with messages how the deep state medical establishment that supposedly doesn’t want the people to know “the truth” and most of the base their message is based on Andrew Wakefield’s thoroughly discredited study of association of vaccines with autism.
With sites such as www.docbastard.net leading the way, the spread of misinformation, is also widely via social media channels. This has led to major social media companies such as Amazon, Pinterest and YouTube putting policies in place to prevent misinformation about vaccines.
The reverberations for anti-vaccination have had far-reaching consequences. In 2000, the United States declared measles completely eradicated. In August 2019, 124 of the people were hospitalised for measles. CDC reports this is the highest number of measles cases declared than since the disease was declared eliminated in 2000.
According to WHO in Ukraine there has been 30,500 people, including 17,000 children infected this year with 16 deaths reported.
Europe as a whole has seen nearly 83,000 cases in 2018, as per WHO figures. WHO further states that measles cases across the globe have risen by 300 percent and in Africa the infections soaring to 700 percent with Madagascar being the most affected country. This spike in increase in Measles cases has been due to vaccine skepticism around the world, which has resulted decreasing vaccination rates.
Dropping vaccination rates due to misinformation and resistance to immunization has been the reason for the increasing cases of diseases such as measles and disease outbreaks.
Even as the antivaxxers movement grows momentum now more than ever there is need for emphasis on increased vaccination uptake, which will provide added health benefits across all age groups.
Public education on the need of vaccines. Provision of routine access to all vaccines recommended for adolescents will require different approaches for adolescents than for infants and children.
Mandatory vaccination to teenage girls before becoming sexually active is showing tremendous progress in preventing and eliminating cervical cancer. Ensuring routine access to pertussis, influenza, pneumococcal, and zoster vaccines can reduce vaccine-preventable disease morbidity and mortality among adults.
Achieving high vaccination uptake among adults will require a greater understanding of the benefits of vaccination by clinicians and patients, and adoption of vaccination provision as a part of adult preventive health care.
WHO recently warned the resistance to vaccination is the most significant threat to health in this century. Therefore, much should be done to stop the antivaxxers train.