By Maha El Akoum, Head of content, WISH
The WHO has recently named vaccine hesitancy as one of the world’s top 10 global health threats of 2019. Yes, 2019.
Vaccine hesitancy is defined as the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability and access to vaccines. It threatens to reverse any progress that has been made over the years in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.
Vaccination is considered one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding the spread of disease. Currently, 2-3 million deaths a year are prevented by vaccinations, and a further 1.5 million could potentially be avoided if the global coverage of vaccines were to be improved. However, despite the overwhelming evidence available to us at our fingertips, we seem to be going backwards.
For instance, measles, a highly contagious and sometimes even deadly disease was considered eradicated in the US in 2000. Yet, 2019 has begun with some of the worst outbreaks seen in recent years.
Parents are refusing to vaccinate their children, and this is causing a growing concern for the global re-occurrence of vaccine preventable diseases. Some studies have looked into the different reasons that parents are hesitant to vaccinate their child(ren) and, while these tend to vary widely between families, they can be summarized under 4 central categories.
- Religious reasons: With only 4 states in the US not offering exemptions for vaccinations for religious beliefs, this poses a key obstacle to those seeking to increase the rates of childhood vaccination. This reasoning is especially difficult to dissuade seeing as they are directly linked to the core religious beliefs and moral world of the parent, as opposed to them being a choice based on ignorance. Usually, hesitancy as a result of religious background is linked to a complete refusal of all vaccines rather than a particular type.
- Personal beliefs: Another common reason for parents to refuse or delay vaccinating their children is personal reasoning or beliefs. While only a handful of states actually allow vaccine exemptions for this reason, it is a notable one as it provides an opportunity for healthcare workers and practitioners to spread awareness about the urgency and importance of protecting their children through these preventative measures. While it may be difficult for most to grasp, some people believe that there is a benefit in having their children contract certain diseases. Other parents may believe that natural immunity is better/more effective than immunity that is acquired through vaccination- and this may help strengthen the child’s immune system as they grow into adulthood. Other parents believe that the risk of contracting these diseases naturally is negligible, and for this reason the negative side effects of vaccine administration can outweigh the benefits.
- Safety concerns: Safety concerns could potentially be considered the biggest reason behind parents refusing vaccines. These concerns are largely based on information that these parents have come across in the media or received through word of mouth. Regardless of the source, parents are constantly bombarded with other people’s opinions about vaccinations, and this can be extremely overwhelming for parents to decipher in order for them to reach their own well-informed decision. Many of these reports that plant uncertainty are targeted at vaccine safety. Infamously, 6 years ago, a doctor published a report in The Lancet claiming a link between autism and vaccines (specifically the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella). This study made vague conclusions that were not based on statistically valid data- and so was soon retracted by the Lancet. It is reports of this kind that can cause parents to completely refuse vaccine administration.
- Desire for additional education: Another reason is that parents generally want more information on vaccinations to drive informed-decision making by being fully aware of both the associated risks and benefits. In a study published in 2005, about 1/3 of parents expressed concern about not having access to sufficient information, and most of them had difficulties talking to or understanding information from their child’s doctor. Many parents want detailed information that is portrayed in a factual, non-biased manner.
However, vaccines are of extreme importance, and now, more than ever, it is crucial to spread the (good) word. Here are five reasons why it is important to vaccinate your child:
- Immunizations can save your child’s life. Medical advances in science mean that in this modern day and time, children can be protected against more serious diseases than ever before. In fact, several diseases that have killed thousands before have now been completely eradicated, and many are close to extinction due to effective vaccines. An example of this is Polio, which was once the US’s most feared disease- but today there are no reports of Polio in the US.
- Vaccinations are safe and effective. Vaccines are only administered after long and careful reviews by doctors, scientists and healthcare researchers. Even though vaccines will cause some discomfort and pain, this is often minimal compared to the pain and discomfort caused by the onset of these diseases. Any side effects of these vaccinations, such as allergic reactions, are extremely rare, and the disease-prevention benefits of getting vaccinations are actually much higher than the possible side effects for almost all children.
- Childhood vaccines contribute to herd immunity. Herd immunity is a public health term that is central to the theory behind vaccination. It means there is a point at which a sufficient amount of people are immune to an infection, to prevent other people (who aren’t immune) from being infected. Once a large proportion of a community is immune to a disease, it can reduce the transmission of this disease and protect vulnerable individuals. Therefore, getting your child vaccinated not only helps your own child but can help keep everyone safe as well.
- Immunizations can save you both time and money. Children with vaccine-preventable diseases can be denied attendance at certain schools. In addition, the onset of some vaccine—preventable diseases can also result in long-term disabilities and this can take a financial toll in medical bills, caregiving and lost time at work. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a good investment and is usually covered by insurance.
Perhaps most importantly of all, in my opinion, is that when you choose not to vaccinate your child, you’re not only potentially harming your own child, but possibly exposing other children and families to diseases that should no longer have a place in our day and time. This makes vaccination not a personal choice, but a choice that affects the entire population.