Anti-vaccination scaremongering: What should we know about anti-vaccine argument?

Anti vaccine

(Hyttalo Souza, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Tamar Ratishvili, a 6th year medical student at David Tvildiani Medical University in Tbilisi, Georgia. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Vaccine distrust and denial have their historical roots entwined with the advent of vaccination. Eventhough the field of vaccinology has dramatically developed since the 18th century, the anti-vaxxer song remains the same. It is the speed and coverage range of its sound that have evolved. Today, largely related to the ever-increasing access to the World Wide Web and universal involvement in the social media, we are facing the ‘golden age’ of the anti-vaccine propaganda.

This recent rise owes a great deal to former, now discredited British doctor Andrew Wakefield, who published the infamous paper falsely linking vaccines and autism. Despite identification of Wakefield’s financial interests and deliberate scientific fraud in his ‘investigation’, the 1998 Lancet paper is rightfully denoted as ‘the most notorious and damaging piece of research in medicine’. Amplified by the extensive media coverage in the beginning and later by the vocal anti-vaxxers on social media, this very myth has resulted in decreased vaccination rates in Europe and US. The recent 2017-2018 measles outbreak in Europe is a reflection of how effective propaganda can be, even after its backbone has legitimately been broken by science.

Vocal vaccine deniers, commonly referred to as ‘anti-vaxxers’, are at the extreme end of the vaccine-hesitancy continuum. Despite not representing a true ‘movement’, they do share some distinctive characteristics with each other and political or religious fanatics. First of all, while non-immune to vaccine preventable diseases, vaccine deniers are robustly immune to any scientific evidence provided. Anti-vaccine argument is based on emotion and subjective interpretations, rather than reason.

When arguing, instead of adhering to the basic rules of evidence-based discussion, they employ certain common techniques of ‘denialism’. One of them is ‘exposing’ conspiracy theories. Another characteristic is citing fake experts, whose ideas counteract the evidence-based consensus. Selectively picking out scientific data backing up their beliefs (confirmation bias), misinterpreting existing information and imposing surreal expectations on science are several other methods extensively used by vaccine deniers.

This ‘denialism’ renders anti-vaccers’ beliefs impossible to challenge. Conventional science, public health systems and every person involved in them lack credibility in vaccine deniers’ eyes. So, abandon hope all ye who tries to change their minds.

If the intentions of convincing an anti-vaxxer are destined for failure, why should one bother to counter them?

The answer is simple: eventhough their claims are false, the damage they are causing is very real. As the internet has become a misinformation minefield full of self-licensed experts, people who are unsure, hesitant and unaware easily fall victim to damaging propaganda.

One should bear in mind, that the general public is the true audience of the vaccine debate, not anti-vaxxers.

Because of this, every possible platform should be utilized to identify and uncover the skewed science behind the anti-vaccine argument and the tactics used to convey it. Tirelesly exposing disinformation and replacing it with facts is key to increasing the public awareness on topics of vaccination in the European community.

About the author

Tamar Ratishvili is a 6th year medical student at David Tvildiani Medical University in Tbilisi, Georgia. She is a member of Georgian Medical Students Association (GMSA), which is affiliated with IFMSA. After participation in the Summer School on Vaccinology at University of Antwerp, Belgium in 2016, she was inspired to contribute to rising vaccination awareness in my country. Therefore, she founded a non-governmental organisation Association of Immunization and Vaccinology (AIVA) with my friends. In addition to that, she is a head of abstract evaluation committee at Students' and Young Scientists' Scientific Association (SYSSA).

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

Advertising

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

Fighting for minds of youth in Latvia

Make the internet safer: stop using passwords

This new way of understanding disease is changing medicine

European Parliament marks EU accession prospects for Serbia and Kosovo

Yemen agreement to end southern power struggle ‘important step’ towards peace: UN Special Envoy

‘We all must step up’ collective action on disability inclusion – UN deputy chief

Federalist EU ‘naively’ believes Washington shares her TTIP high fever

Wide-ranging reforms needed to ensure Italy’s economic recovery

Mass measles vaccination campaign begins in Ebola-hit DR Congo province

‘Countless opportunities’ for new people-centred workplace, but ‘decisive action’ critical

Khashoggi case highlights ‘very worrying practice’ of overseas abductions, says UN expert

Japanese banks to move their European HQ from London to Frankfurt after Brexit

A ‘charismatic leader’ dedicated to making the world a better place for all: officials bid farewell to former UN chief Kofi Annan

ILO: Unemployment to increase by 8.1 million in 2013-2014

Eurozone recession subsides

The new North America trade deal USMCA punishes German cars

Russia must urgently step up fight against foreign bribery

The West – the EU and the US – is writing off Turkey’s Erdogan

UN conference agrees better ways for Global South countries to work together on sustainable development

Africa is creating one of the world’s largest single markets. What does this mean for entrepreneurs?

The race for Driverless vehicles: where is the industry heading?

World Pride underscores that all people are born ‘free and equal’ in dignity and human rights

4 things President Trump could learn from Jimmy Carter

Time to pay up: UN summit to push for development finance breakthrough

Accelerating a more sustainable industrial revolution with digital manufacturing

Public Policies for LGBT in Brazil

Schengen: MEPs ready for negotiations on temporary checks at national borders

What is digital equality? An interview with Nanjira Sambuli

European Young Innovators Forum @ European Business Summit 2014: Europe for StartUps, vision 2020

China, forever new adventures

Why cities hold the key to safe, orderly migration

The essence of care is cosmopolitan

Young health workforce – a core of effective primary healthcare?

Why Eurozone needs a bit more inflation

Tributes for ‘role model’ former UN refugee agency chief, Sadako Ogata

Draghi sees inflationary bubbles

Energy security: The synchronisation of the Baltic States’ electricity networks – European solidarity in action

Bahamas: ‘Clock is ticking’ to help those who lost everything in Hurricane Dorian, says UN

Which countries get the most sleep – and how much do we really need?

Energy: new target of 32% from renewables by 2030 agreed by MEPs and ministers

What the global Internet’s stakeholders can learn from Europe’s new data law

Joint OECD and World Bank report urges governments to improve resilience to disasters and related fiscal risks

Environment and health at increasing risk from growing weight of ‘e-waste’

Amsterdam is getting a 3D-printed bridge

How Greece was destroyed

Global Citizen-Volunteer Internships

4 innovation hotspots in the Arab world

Commission imposes a fine of €561 million on Microsoft

We are ‘burning up our future’, UN’s Bachelet tells Human Rights Council

EU tells Britain stay in as long as you wish

G20 LIVE: G20 Statement on the fight against terrorism

The Government of China and UNIDO partner to develop technical guidelines for standards of small hydropower development

Greece may offer to China a European gateway

Europe had a record year for Measles – and it’s partly down to anti-vaccine campaigners

Can the world take the risk of a new financial armageddon so that IMF doesn’t lose face towards Tsipras?

Easing funding woes for UN agency assisting Palestine refugees a ‘wise investment for today and the future’

‘Revved up climate action’ needed to counter ‘prolonged’ and deadly storms like Cyclone Idai: Guterres

To Brexit, or not to Brexit…rather not: 10 Downing Street, London

From diamonds to recycling: how blockchain can drive responsible and ethical businesses

International World Summit Award calls for outstanding digital applications with impact on society from 178 UN member states

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