COVID-19 Vaccination Campaigngs: anti-vaccine movement is still a challenge

(Markus Spiske, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Catherine Veloso Correia, 19 years old, a third-year medical student at Mogi das Cruzes University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. 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 IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


The relevance of vaccination to prevent a lot of diseases is proven and known worldwide. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the biggest world health crisis of the century, a lot of institutions and companies have invested in research to develop vaccines, once it is considered one of the most effective prevention methods. Despite the scientific evidence, the anti-vaccine movement is getting bigger proportions and requires a reflection about its origins and consequences on public health.

Historically, one event that had a global repercussion was the publication of an article in 1998, that postulated an association between the MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) and autism, in a famous scientific journal. It was developed by a group coordinated by Andrew Wakefield, and later, he lost his medical register in the UK, and the article was retracted. However, the false information was already spread and persists even nowadays, reinforcing this phenomenon called “fake news” and increasing the vaccination hesitancy.  

This scenario brings out an important point about the anti-vaccine movement discussion: the belief that personal judgment or information widely shared on the internet has more value than scientific facts. The negationism about scientific evidence is a common reaction in many people when science refutes previous convictions they had. This explains why it is a popular belief that the vaccine’s risks are high, when studies show that it is safe and prevents complications or even the mortality caused by the Coronavirus. Additionally when fake news is shared on social media, it can be easily accessed by people that have similar thoughts, and then it reaches significant proportions and makes it harder for the population to distinguish false information from real facts.

Another commonly misunderstood concept is that vaccination is an individual choice and only affects oneself, when in fact it is also a social contract.  A high vaccinal coverage is essential to control the pandemic, so if one person decides not to be immunized, there is a risk of being infected and transmitting the virus to more people. Therefore, the awareness about the impact of the vaccine on collective health is an important factor.

In this context, it is possible to assume that the anti-vaccine movement has an historical and cultural origin, and the vaccinal hesitancy is even more increased by the growing number of fake news spread on the internet recently. The most powerful tool to combat anti-vaccine movement impacts is investing in information, effective communication with scientific evidence and accessible language to the population, and also leverage the awareness about social responsibility of vaccination, since the vaccine can bring to the society not only immunization, but hope for a healthier and better life.

REFERENCES:

RAO, T.S; Andrade C. The MMR vaccine and autism: Sensation, refutation, retraction, and fraud. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011 Apr;53(2):95-6. doi: 10.4103/0019-5545.82529. PMID: 21772639; PMCID: PMC3136032.

ROCHEL DE CAMARGO JR, K. Here we go again: the reemergence of anti-vaccine activism on the Internet. Cad. Saúde Pública,  Rio de Janeiro ,  v. 36, supl. 2,  e00037620,    2020 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0102-311X2020001403001&lng=en&nrm=iso> . access on  21  Jan.  2021.  Epub Aug 31, 2020.  https://doi.org/10.1590/0102-311×00037620.

SUCCI, R.C.M. Vaccine refusal – what we need to know. J. Pediatr. (Rio J.),  Porto Alegre ,  v. 94, n. 6, p. 574-581,  Dec.  2018 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0021-75572018000600574&lng=en&nrm=iso> . access on  20  Jan.  2021.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jped.2018.01.008.

About the author

Catherine Veloso Correia, 19 years old, is a third-year medical student at Mogi das Cruzes University in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She is vice-president of the “Academic League of Infectology”, and she is part of the management team of two other academic leagues, “Obstetrics and Gynecology” and “Pediatrics”.  She acts as a LSG in the International Federation of Medical Students Associations Brazil UMC. She strongly believes that immunization is a collective contract for health, and that “no one will be safe until everyone is safe”, as Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said

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