Anti-vaccination movement affecting youth in Europe

Vaccination 2018

(Unsplash, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms. Blanca Paniello, student in Biomedicine in Barcelona, Spain and Ms. Viktoria Kastner, medical student in Wuerzburg, Germany. They form part of the Standing Committee on Public Health Regional Assistants for Europe of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA). The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and don’t necessarily reflect neither IFMSA’s nor The European Sting’s view on the topic.


Vaccination has become an increasingly important topic in European public health, as the current state of vaccination coverage has led to multiple disease outbreaks, such as the current measles outbreak with thousands of deaths, despite measles previously being considered eliminated.

A continuing anti-vaccination movement could lead to worse progression of diseases, such as influenza, and consequently also increase the number of deaths, not only of measles, but other preventable diseases, too. In order to improve this situation, collaboration on different levels is needed, including the impact of politics on public health but also taking into account the fear of individuals, especially younger generations.  

In Europe there is a new supranational recommendation by the European Commission to “strengthen European Union cooperation on vaccine-preventable diseases” (1) in order to tackle vaccine hesitancy, align vaccination schedules and improve research. Unfortunately, this is not always well received as there is a growing anti-vaccination movement.

This movement is different than other social groupings as it consists of a gathering of individuals who are both religious and secular, as well as influenced and unpersuaded in belief. Despite the root cause of their opinion, one huge combined movement, convinced that vaccination can cause more harm than it does good, evolved. This heterogeneity makes it so difficult to fight against the spreading of the anti-vaccination movement.

But what about the youth? What is their belief concerning this public health issue?

Nowadays, modern medicine and technology play an important role in this social problem. The increasing amount of accessible information via the internet has led to rapid dissemination of myths, misunderstanding and thus miseducation, what many would label “fake news”.

Andrew Wakefield, a well-known anti-vaccine activist claiming that the Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine might cause autism, whose medical license was withdrawn because of his falsified and scaremongering ‘research’, and people like the model Jenny McCarthy – who alleges that people are dying from vaccinations – can strongly influence the shapeable opinion of young people and the general population. Therefore it is not surprising that after searching for “vaccination” and “immunization” on Google, 43% of websites are about anti-vaccination. This has led to growing incredulity, lack of confidence and complacency among the European youth.

We are currently facing new obstacles in public health, where misinformation – facilitated by the fast spread of information – is putting people at ever growing risk of previously irrelevant infections. In order to improve the current situation, we need to educate young people about vaccinations and their benefits, such as herd immunity.

In addition to that the spread of wrong information has to be mitigated and ensured that the right information is shared across social media and is made readily available on reputable and trustworthy sources on the internet. Tackling fake news and misinformation is something all healthcare professionals can contribute to and tackle this huge (and growing) issue together.

References

  1. Kieslich, Katharina: “Addressing vaccination hesitancy in Europe: a case study in state-society relations.” The European Journal of Public Health. 28(Suppl 3): 30–33 (2018).
  2. https://ec.europa.eu/health/vaccination/overview_en
  3. Hussain A, Ali S, Ahmed M, et al. The Anti-vaccination Movement: A Regression in Modern Medicine. Cureus 10(7): 1-8 (2018)
  4. Beck, A. Issues in the anti-vaccination movement in England. Medical History, 4 (4), 310-321.
  5. Vrdelja  M. et al.The growing vaccine hesitancy: exploring the influence of the internet
  6. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/23/young-people-sceptical-vaccinations-getting-worse/

About the authors

Viktoria Kastner and Blanca Paniello have both been engaging in the field of public health in IFMSA for several years. Viktoria studies Medicine in Wuerzburg (Germany) and Blanca is completing her degree in Biomedicine in Barcelona (Spain). Both aim to work in global health, dedicating their efforts to achieve universal, sustainable, high-quality healthcare for all.

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