Anti-vaxxers are hurting vaccination campaigns. We need to fight back

vaccination 2019 baby

UNICEF/Dejongh A little girl being vaccinated in the town of Bouaké, in Côte d’Ivoire. Immunization in the country is free for children bellow one year old, but three out of five children do not get vaccinated before their first birthday.

This article was exclusively written for the The European Sting by Mr. Jorge Félix Cardoso, a final year medical student at FMUP, Porto, and a MA in Political Philosophy candidate at UMinho, Braga. He 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 IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


For decades, it looked like vaccines were invincible. They were used to eradicate smallpox and to turn deadly diseases, like polio and measles, into rare and unfortunate events. The success was so evident that, in 2010, the global health community declared 2010-2020 the “Decade of Vaccines”.

However, there seems to be trouble in paradise. Vaccines are starting to become victims of their own enormous success. People start wondering – why do we keep taking these vaccines, if we never heard from these diseases again? Confidence in vaccines is fading, thanks to coordinated efforts by a group of people, directed by conflicts of interest, entitled “Anti-vaxxers”. According to WHO’s “Global Vaccine Action Plan Monitoring – Secretariat Annual Report 2018”, in 2017, of the 159 countries that provided information about vaccine hesitancy, only seven countries reported its complete absence.

Recently, the Health and Food Safety Directorate-General of the EU has published its research on vaccine confidence, and results are worrying. In countries like the Czech Republic and Slovakia, even a relevant part of GPs do not believe the MMR vaccine is safe and important (37 and 25%, respectively). They also report a correlation between GP confidence and confidence among the general public.

This lack of confidence in vaccines leads to a decrease in vaccination coverage which, in turn, spoils the chance to eradicate some diseases and ends the “herd immunity” we had so costly acquired in the EU.

The website of the European Centre for Disease Control has a live tracker of measles epidemics: according to it, there are measles outbreaks in 4 countries and 33 deaths due to measles in 2018 so far, as of November 23rd (there’s actually another ongoing outbreak in my own country, Portugal)

How do we fight back? I do not have a complete answer, but I do have two suggestions

  1. Fight the disinformation at its source. Projects like vaccineconfidence.org, which tracks the global picture of trends and issues in vaccine confidence, looking for “outbreaks” of misinformation online and allowing such attacks to be countered, are crucial for achieving better vaccine literacy among the general public.
  2. Start teaching medical students (and other health professionals as well) how to communicate in the age of disinformation and generalized pseudoscience. When patients tell you that they believe vaccines cause autism, or that they think it’s better their kids have the disease and not the vaccine, how do you explain it’s not the case that such things are true? Kieslich shows, in a recent article, that understanding the discourse of deniers is crucial to develop a strategy against disinformation. Also, medical schools are not teaching how to communicate science, but at least they should know how to do it, which is partially disproved by those GPs that do not trust vaccines.

Simply hoping that science will prevail is not going to not work. We need to actively engage in this fight against an idea that threatens the huge progress made by the medical community. There’s still time, so let’s find the will.

About the author

Jorge Félix Cardoso is a final year medical student at FMUP, Porto, and a MA in Political Philosophy candidate at UMinho, Braga. Jorge is also a researcher at AI4Health, CINTESIS. Currently, Jorge is actively engaged in advocating for health and youth subjects, both through IFMSA and in his personal capacity.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

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

UN must bring more women police officers into the fold to be effective – UN peacekeeping official

IMF: European banks do not perform their duty to real economy

A Europe that protects: Continued efforts needed on security priorities

Global warming: our responsibility

Why sustainable products are a win-win for all of us

Main results of Foreign Affairs EU Council, 16/07/2018

The COP24 Agreement: Yes, it happened at last

Afghanistan: UN mission condemns deadly attack near Kabul airport

International Women’s Day 2019: more equality, but change is too slow

Further reforms will move Slovakia toward a more innovative and inclusive society

The world is facing more disasters. This is how data can help us reduce that risk

Here’s how to check in on your AI system, as COVID-19 plays havoc

Big data is coming to agriculture. Farmers must set its course

Leaders need hard data to make the hard decisions about sustainability

The global response to the coronavirus pandemic must not be undermined by bribery

ECB guarantees the liquidity of the Atlantic financial volume

European Youth Capital 2019 announced: Novi Sad, Serbia

JADE Generations Club: Connecting perspectives, changing Europe.

Here are four steps SMEs can take for long-term success

Commission and EIB provide CureVac with a €75 million financing for vaccine development and expansion of manufacturing

What COVID-19 tells us about the changing nature of disaster risk

Greece and Ukraine main items on EU28 menu; the course is set

How privacy tech is redefining the data economy

Cyber attacks are shutting down countries, cities and companies. Here’s how to stop them

Will the end of QE come along with ECB’s inflation target?

World Malaria Day: 7 things to know about the deadly disease

A young person’s perspective on the Paris and Beirut attacks and aftermath

Convincing the Germans to pay also for the unification of Eurozone

A sterilised EMU may lead to a break up of Eurozone

US and Mexico child deportations drive extreme violence and trauma: UNICEF

Reintegrating former rebels into civilian life a ‘serious concern’ in Colombia: UN Mission chief

Combatting terrorism: EP special committee calls for closer EU cooperation

“If they think they can slave an entire nation, then they will just have the opposite results!”, Alexis Tsipras cries out from the Greek parliament

Hurricane Dorian: Bahamas death toll expected to rise as thousands remain missing

This is how travel hotspots are fighting back against overtourism

Berlin to pay at the end for Eurozone banks’ consolidation

‘Fire-fighting approach’ to humanitarian aid ‘not sustainable’: Deputy UN chief

The Working Methods of the von der Leyen Commission: Striving for more at home and in the world

Commissioner Hogan announces new transparency package

Syrian crisis is ‘clearest example’ of foreign investment in terrorism, Deputy Prime Minister says at UN

EU Commission: Germany can make Eurozone grow again just by helping itself

This robot has soft hands. It could be the future of sustainable production

Davos participants call for digital trade deal

4 key steps towards a circular economy

Tax revenues have reached a plateau

6 charts that show how Japan’s economy stacks up as it enters a new era

Migration and asylum: EU funds to promote integration and protect borders

Nicaragua: MEPs demand an end to repression of political opponents

The 10 most common types of plastic choking Europe’s rivers

In Pakistan, Guterres urges world to step up climate action, praises support to Afghan refugees

Protecting citizens’ access to social security in case of no-deal Brexit

China’s impact as a global investor; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

5 ways governments can unleash the power of young entrepreneurs

Europe must remember its past to build its future

The world wide web is 30 years old. What better time to fight for its future?

JADE Spring Meeting 2017– day 1: Excellence awards, panel discussion, keynote speeches

Population in crisis hit EU countries will suffer for decades

How a chocolate bar gives hope for a new economy

Five ways to increase trust in e-commerce

Fairer food supply chain: Agriculture MEPs clamp down on unfair trading

More Stings?

Advertising

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