The movement of anti-vaccers: taking humanity back 200 years

Vaccine 2018 India

UNICEF/Dhiraj Singh A health worker immunizes a pregnant woman inside at health center in Aurangabad, India.

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms. Diana-Elena Nistor, a sixth year medical student at Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest, Romania. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect neither IFMSA’s nor The European Sting’s view on the topic.


The first vaccine ever used was in 1796, when Edward Jenner decided to take material from cowpox pustules to provide protection against smallpox. Two hundred years later, after various improvements of the method, smallpox was eradicated. This is one of the greatest medical achievements of public health.

Edward Jenner’s success was followed by Louis Pasteur’s rabies vaccine in 1885. After that, rapid progress led to the development of vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, cholera, plague, and more by the 1930s.

Anti-vaccination movements have always been around. Although vaccination saved millions of lives over the last two hundred years, the opposition has never ceased to doubt it.

In England, Edward Jenner’s experiment was met with criticism, fear, and protest, that worsened after the mandatory vaccine policies of the government. The citizens showed immediate resistance, strengthened by the fact that vaccine refusal was punished with penalties. Anti-vaccers leagues and rallies led to the development of a commission that would study vaccination. Their result was clear: vaccination did offer protection against smallpox; however, it was followed by removal of penalties for failure to vaccinate and included a “conscientious objector” clause, so that opponents could obtain an exemption certificate.

An international controversy over the safety of the DTP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) erupted in the 1970s, when anti-vaccers claimed that DTP is related to neurological conditions. This led to a decreased vaccination rate and three epidemics of pertussis (whooping cough).

The MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine faced its own controversy, in 1998, when British doctor Andrew Wakefield published his suspicion of a possible connection between MMR vaccine and autism. The article was a fraud and Wakefield was struck from the medical register in Great Britain, with evidence that parents who believed the vaccine had harmed their children paid him to falsify data. Even though no study found a link between the vaccine and autism, it is still one of the greatest fears of the anti-vaccers.

Wakefield’s fake article hits Europe in 2018, the year with an unprecedented wave of sickness and death caused by measles, a disease entirely preventable, that was thought to be “eliminated”.  With so many parents afraid to vaccinate their children, the herd immunity (indirect protection of the ones that cannot become immune to contagious diseases due to medical reasons) is severely reduced. It occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, naturally (after infection) or artificially (after vaccination).

An important role in today’s catastrophe is played by the internet, the place where anyone can have an opinion and everyone can choose what to believe. Anti-vaccer movements exist since forever, but the internet brought together all the confusions and the insecurities of parents all over the world.

Today’s biggest ethical question is: are legal exemptions still justified in the times of reaching herd immunity? Health professionals struggle to combat the anti-vaccination movement with all of their resources,including intense social media activity.

About the author

Diana-Elena Nistor is a sixth year medical student at „Carol Davila” University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Bucharest, Romania. She had the opportunity to do an Erasmus year in Perugia, Italy. Also, during the summer between her fourth and fifth year she followed King’s College London Summer School’s courses. She is interested in global health, and her long term goal is to raise awareness about subjects such as vaccination, use of antibiotics and the importance of screening in various pathologies. She consider publishing this article would be a great step towards that goal.

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

the European Sting Milestones

Featured Stings

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Light at the end of the Eurozone tunnel

How and why Mercedes fakes the EU fuel consumption tests

Challenges remain in DPRK despite ‘slight’ improvements in health, wellbeing: UNICEF

Economic recovery won’t tackle youth unemployment problem

The role of public affairs in student NGOs

Two women threaten to tear the world apart

Can big events really go plastic-free? A water capsule made from seaweed may be the answer

Satellites and data are going to help us phase out fossil fuels. Here’s how

A day that Berlin and Brussels would remember for a long time

Russia and the West to partition Ukraine?

Youth policy in Europe not delivering for young people

Don’t compare data to oil – digitization needs a new mindset

Yemen parties underscore ‘strong desire’ for peace, UN Envoy reports

Baku forum to push back against ‘rise of hate’ with strong call for cultural and religious tolerance, says UN official

Is Germany yielding to pressures for more relaxed economic policies?

This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work

Earthquake: Monte Dei Paschi Di Siena

FROM THE FIELD: One teen’s journey from refugee camp to US school principal

How to end overfishing in the global South

MWC 2016 LIVE: CEOs issue rallying call to drive ‘gigabit economy’

Varna (Bulgaria) awarded European Youth Capital 2017

South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%

The new Kiev rulers ask $35 billion from the West

Key Brazilian border crossing for Venezuela refugees reopens as asylum numbers pass last year’s total

The EU Consumer Policy on the Digital Market: A Behavioral Economics View

UN chief appeals for calm as Mali presidential election draws to a close

These coastal countries are sinking the fastest

This project in India helps people and tigers co-exist peacefully

Who is to lose from the 6-month extension of the EU economic sanctions against Russia?

Main results of Environment Council of 09 October 2018

Companies can help build a more inclusive world. Here’s how

Philippe de Backer of ALDE at European Business Summit 2015 stresses: “Reinvent your business”

A Sting Exclusive: “Regional Policy: a fully-fledged investment policy”, Commissioner Cretu reveals live from European Business Summit 2015

Yemen: Major UN aid boost for ‘up to 14 million’ as country risks becoming a land of ‘living ghosts’

Internet of Things: a Force for Good or Evil?

Rule of Law: The Commission opens a debate to strengthen the rule of law in the EU

Increasingly under attack, women human rights defenders need better back up

Half the world’s refugee children not in school, UN agency finds

A Sting Exclusive: “Junior Enterprises themselves carry out projects focusing on the environment”, JADE President Daniela Runchi highlights from Brussels

Europe’s poor investment in digital is threatening prosperity. Here’s what its start-ups need

This AI is working with a fleet of drones to help us fight ocean plastic

Corruption In The Balkans Is Impeding EU Membership

The West castigates Turkey’s Erdogan for the ruthless political cleansing

GDPR and the World Cup have these 4 things in common

Data is the oil of the digital world. What if tech giants had to buy it from us?

Iran: UN rights chief ‘deeply disturbed’ by continuing executions of juvenile offenders

MEPs back measures to reconcile career and private life

Brexit kick-off: a historic day for the EU anticlockwise

First-ever World Braille Day underscores importance of written language for human rights

Work to make the world a better place: 5 things you need to know about ‘green jobs’

The European Sting live from the World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

This mobile laundry gives homeless people free showers and washes their clothes

Here’s how to make ‘value-based healthcare’ a reality

‘InvestEU’ programme: big boost for jobs, growth and investment

LED lights could stop turtles and birds from drowning in fishing nets

Traditional knowledge at ‘core’ of indigenous heritage, and ‘must be protected’, says UN Forum

This is the state of the world’s health, in numbers

Trade war or not New York bankers will have it their way

A new crop of EU ‘Boards’ override the democratic accountability and undermine the EU project

Further reforms will promote a stronger and more inclusive Hungarian economy

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s