Vaccine doubt spreading throughout the world

In a recent article found online by author Eliza Barclay, the focus is on the interesting topic of how people are noticing doubt and fear of vaccinations is spreading throughout the world.

Ms. Barclay states, “The public health community has gotten markedly better at distributing effective vaccines to the children who need them. But researchers are noticing an increase in mistrust of vaccines around the world and they’re concerned that unfounded suspicions could derail immunization programs essential to saving lives.”

In the U.S. and Europe, this doubt is not a new thing. For years, Anti-vaccine groups have questioned the safety of vaccines like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR). Many believe it is directly linked to an increase in autism. But according to Heidi Larson, a researcher and lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, anti-vaccine groups exist in developing countries as well and are getting better networked and organized.

In a paper published online last month in The Lancet, Larson and her co-authors write that “current antivaccination groups have new levels of global reach and influence, empowered by the internet and social networking capacities allowing like minds to rapidly self-organize transnationally, whether for or against vaccines.”

Fears and suspicions around vaccine safety have already contributed to a slight decline in vaccination rates in the U.S. Public health experts say recent whooping cough and measles outbreaks in several countries have been connected to people who refused the vaccines. In the Ukraine, a 2008 measles and rubella vaccination campaign was suspended due to public mistrust of the vaccine. The campaign, which was targeting 7.5 million people, ended up only reaching 116,000 people.

Vaccine distrust in the developing world can evolve out of cultural, religious or sometimes economic or political reasons, says Larson. In the case of a polio vaccination boycott in northern Nigeria in 2003, “marginalized communities asserted their voice by refusing or challenging government-driven initiatives.”

Whatever the reason for the distrust, Larson and her colleagues would like to learn about suspicions early on. They’ve developed an alert system for early detection of distrust, using reports from local media and “informants,” including local health workers. The pilot initiative is in Kenya, a country that recently introduced the pneumococcal vaccine.

“We are monitoring acceptance and looking for any issues that may come up,” says Larson. If they hear anything, they’ll let partners rolling out the vaccine know they need to do more to assure people they’re trustworthy.

Larson says these days, the vaccine questioners and refusers are usually in clusters, which can threaten herd immunity from disease. “It would be better if scattered individuals were the questioners, because when they start clustering, it becomes a bigger problem,” Larson tells Ms. Barclay.

Polio is one disease where mistrust of the vaccine could really set back progress towards eradication, Larson says. And with the recent reports that Bin Laden was captured in Pakistan under the pretext of a Hepatitis B vaccination drive hasn’t helped the cause, according to many. Pakistan has the highest incidence of polio in the world but suspicions around vaccination efforts have been rising.


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