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).

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