Vaccinations and the movement of anti-vaccers

vaccine 2019 ifmsa

(Unsplash, 2018)

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Ms. Hamaiyal Sana, a third year student of medicine at Bolan University of Medical and Health Sciences in Pakistan. 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.


When we talk vaccines, the first thing that comes to mind should be the sense of security it affords our health. It would not be an overstatement to suggest that introduction of vaccines in the world changed the face of public health forever.

Where we saw countless death before, we have seen life; where we saw fleeting lifetimes before, we have seen longevity. Yet, alongside this miracle always existed a community of individuals who were opposed to it, claiming it to be a marketing strategy for pharmaceutical companies, a way of introducing mental retardation among children or causing infertility, going as far as calling it an unreligious practice.

This strategic yet baseless propaganda was called the “anti-vaccer movement” and it has been an ever-present element since the introduction of vaccines in late 18th century in Europe. One would ask the reason behind these agendas and movements against vaccine; why is it that humans would not support the one great that has made their species out exist any others before them. Surely we cannot be that naive? To delve into this would obviously be a very lengthy debate.

But it has been seen as a trend with vaccines that when people go far too long without witnessing or experiencing the gruesome consequences that culminate for vaccine preventable diseases (VPD), they lose touch with reality and assume themselves under a false security.

It is very self explanatory that diseases like small pox and polio have become a fragment of our textbook stories. While polio is still considered an endemic in more than one countries (including Pakistan), its incidence has become very low, awarding the people a false notion that these diseases might not be that serious, or maybe they will not be touched by them. One popular notion is that if their ancestors went without vaccines and still did not contract these diseases then why do they have a need for it?

Ideas like these are what fuel the anti-vaccine movements. European history is proof that these movements have not always been peaceful and most have left some pretty gruesome marks on the society and the future of healthcare as a whole. A very similar violent atmosphere against vaccines can be found in Pakistan, where religious groups like Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have driven a rather horrendous movement with a over 100 deaths reported till date, including strategized target killings and even suicide bomb attacks on polio centers.

Movements like these are creating a serious conundrum for the eradication of VPDs. Where there were only eight confirmed cases of polio in Pakistan last year (compared to a total of 14 cases of polio reported from Afghanistan, the only two countries of the world with a status of endemic for polio), there might now be more. Another aspect to what makes these movements a terrifying threat to the future of humankind is that it is not only driven by religious zealots but also by the high class and well-educated population of the society.

Recently we are seeing that these movements are being backed by licensed medical practitioners and leaders of the society as well. A prime example of this is the current outbreak of measles in a developed region like Europe. This raises some very serious questions about our future: has our species come so low to go through devastating consequences for diseases that have already been found a cure for?

What is our role in this? How are we contributing to this cause? It is a very apt saying that the “last mile is the longest”. We have come the closest we have ever been to eradication of these diseases. Now we need to ask ourselves: could we have reached where we stand today if we had let nature decide what it saw fit?

Today we stand behind a wall of individuals, who have immunity against VPDs, but this wall is becoming weaker with each refusal to vaccination and lest we forget it, we will not be walking in a herd immune society if we kept losing ourselves in baseless propagandas.

Reference: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/368/1623/20120148.short

About the author

Hamaiyal Sana is a third year student of medicine at Bolan University of Medical and Health Sciences. She is currently holding the position of the assistant to National officer of Public Health (NPO) IFMSA Pakistan. When she is not reading or writing, she can be found participating in any manner of volunteer activities to help those around her. She has a very deep running philanthropic streak that inspired her to pursue a career in medicine in the first place. Her goal is to make the dream of health equity a reality for everybody regardless of class or ethnicity.

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