20th June 2019

The Vaccines Debate

The debate surrounding whether or not to vaccinate our kids is one that has really come to the forefront in 2019.

Whether it is due to the impact of social media sites or indeed from public testimony in front of Congress, the vaccination debate is certainly becoming more than just any other conspiracy theory. This article will attempt to discuss why this idea is becoming increasingly popular and in turn, what is being done to counter it.

Looking solely at 2019, there has been a surge in anti-vac numbers, as parents refuse to use the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. As a result, there have been multiple outbreaks of measles in developed Western nations, such as the USA & New Zealand, to name a few. The major problem with this is that even minor numbers of unvaccinated children decrease the effect of ‘Herd Immunity;’ the idea that as more and more people become vaccinated, it becomes far more difficult for the infection to find someone to take hold off, which leads to the disease being effectively neutered.

 

Vaccines

If we look back at the 1940s/1950s, polio killed or paralysed more than half a million people across the world. What solved the problem, was the arrival of the Polio vaccine. Other infectious diseases such as Tetanus, Diphtheria and Yellow Fever, also had their respective impact before their vaccinations were discovered. Vaccines have consistently protected society for decades and it’s looking like we may even be moving towards creating a vaccine that prevents cancer. Even though vaccinations are to protect us from various diseases, the increasing threat isn’t the diseases themselves, but, the fear of vaccination. How did we get to this point?

 

Rise in Anti Vaccination Sentiments

Why has there been a change of attitude toward vaccines in the last 10 years?

The premise of the anti-vaccine movement is largely the belief that vaccines can cause more harm than benefit to the health of those who receive them. One reason for this belief is that, at around the same time as babies receive many of their standard vaccinations, it becomes possible for doctors to diagnose autism. This fear being fuelled by the polarising effect of social media has catapulted the anti-vaccine movement into the headlines.

 

Case Studies– Outbreak Examples

The most recent outbreak across has been the reoccurrence of measles due to anti-vaxers fear of the MMR vaccines connection with Autism. This year, Washington State is currently averaging more than one new measles case a day, and the majority of those cases were children between the ages of 1-10. At least, 10 states in 2019 have already reported outbreaks of Measles. Anti-Vaxers argue that there will always be some cases due to travellers who can often bring infections such as measles abroad and bring it into the US.

In 2014, there was a large measles outbreak in Disney Land which affected over 50 people. A number of children initially spread the disease due to their parent’s intentional decision to not vaccinate. Outbreaks such as these have become increasingly common due to falling numbers of those who get standard vaccinations when they are young. One of the main concerns is that as the vaccination rates decrease, the disregard for ‘herd immunity’ increases and so do the chances of the infection grabbing hold and causing an outbreak. Therefore showing how some parents decided to not vaccinate their children can have a wider impact than on just their own. One example of a group or organisation who are continually attempting to debunk any belief in vaccination is “A Voice for Choice” a Californian non-profit organisation.

 

How have Pro-Vaxers responded?

The best recent example is Ethan Lindenberger, an 18-year old from Ohio who went against his parents’ anti-vaccination beliefs and this month went before Congress to promote vaccine education. Those who testified were part of a Senate hearing titled, “Vaccines Save Lives: What is Driving Preventable Disease Outbreaks?” What this hearing concluded was that the problem is growing due to the gap between medical institutions and parents involved with conspiracy theories on social media.

Moving on to the impact of social media sights: Facebook has recently announced that they will be cracking down on Anti-Vaccine content. Monika Bickert, Facebook’s VP of global policy management explained that they will not be banning Anti-Vaccine pages, but they will make them harder to find by reducing their ranking and not including them in recommended searches. Other social media sites such as Instagram have also made changes by blocking anti-vax posts from Instagram Explore and Hashtag pages. It was even announced that more than 137 Facebook and Instagram pages were releasing misinformation, mainly aimed at UK users. Although this is a rather recent trend for social media sites to be under fire for fuelling the trend of anti-vax, there have always been those who have stood by the belief of Anti-vax, even before they received help from the media.

Opposition to vaccines goes as far back as the 18th Century and have often been associated with religion. One influential figure is the Reverend John Williams of Massachusetts who voices his opinion that vaccines were the devil’s work. In the 19th century when laws were passed in Briton making it compulsory for a parent to ensure their kids were vaccinated, the Anti-Vaccination League was formed in London. Even though the use of vaccines has spread, the opposition has never fully disappeared, for there have always been groups in different parts of the world who would stand by Anti-Vaccination…

 

What is being done in the Industry?

It appears that Pharmaceutical companies can also be to blame for the rise in the anti-vaccine movement. The industry has established a solid history of shooting itself in the foot via a number of scandals to do with drug prices, which only fuels the belief that the industry only makes vaccines for profit maximisation.

Currently, the Anti-Vaccine movement is at a high point and it is certainly becoming an ever increasing worry and one which Governments are now having to counteract, for example, the UK government is promising to incentivise pharmaceutical companies to develop “urgently needed” drugs to fight antimicrobial resistant (AMR) superbugs, following the health secretary warning. So as antibiotic resistance and vaccine resistance increases, there is clearly a fear that pharma companies aren’t investing enough money into this area.

Vaccines, like any other medical technology, have advantages and pitfalls alike. History and science have repeatedly shown that the advantages of vaccination far outweigh the pitfalls and that many of the negatives can be avoided with proper judgment. Yet mistrust of vaccines has persisted, despite ample evidence that they are safe, potent, and effective, and further evidence that soundly counters claims such as causing autism. And despite all the vocal opposition to vaccines, none of the attempts to prove the ineffectiveness or dangers of vaccines has stood up over time and rigorous testing. I suspect as the media coverage dies down after this recent flurry, so too will the momentum for the anti-vaccine movement. Only time will tell.

 

By Matthew Jamison

 

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5489284/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6122668/

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/04/health/washington-measles-outbreak/index.html?no-st=1552512016

https://www.theverge.com/2019/3/5/18251807/senate-anti-vax-vaccines-congressional-hearing-ethan-lindenberger-ohio-teen

https://www.statnews.com/2019/02/26/anti-vaccine-movement-pharma-tarnished-reputation/

More insights    Share