- Anti-vaxxer movements are on the rise. Episode 1 of Antivaxxers?!, a series of podcasts from Anticentric, explores perspectives around the rise of anti-vaxxers and vaccine hesitancy.
- Vaccine hesitancy is on the rise despite the fact that there have been more than 35 million reported cases of COVID-19 and over 1 million deaths.
- Vaccines of one kind or another have been in use since at least 1796. More than two centuries later, vaccine can be a topic of contention.
By Alfred Romann in VANCOUVER
Anti-vaxxer movements are on the rise even as more than 178 teams of researchers work around the clock to develop vaccines and treatments to deal with COVID-19, the disease that has brought the global economy to a screeching halt.
As of Oct. 5, more than 35 million cases and over 1 million deaths have been recorded around the world since the virus first surfaced in , according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Vaccines and trust
Vaccine hesitancy is not new. For example, after an outbreak of smallpox in the U.S. in the 1880s, a movement against mandatory vaccination gained some serious traction. The movement spread to the point that, by the 1920s, armed groups of civilians were actively stepping in to block immunization campaigns.
A century has passed since then but, for many, the fears of vaccines remain. There are fears about safety, fears of side-effects, fears of what they could do to children. The controversies abound.
Some of these fears are grounded on specific, but often baseless, examples but are then amplified and used as a point of reference regardless of logic. The fact that one vaccine was badly developed decades ago does not mean that hundreds of other vaccines developed since are dangerous.
For instance, a vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DPT) was thought to have caused severe side effects on more than three dozen children in the 1970s. Antivaxxers continue to point to that one example, despite the fact that DPT vaccines have been used on billions of people in the decades since.
In the late 1990s, antivaxxers found another lighting rod. A credible medical journal linked a vaccine against mumps and rubella (MMR) to bowel disease and autism. The paper was disavowed in just days and most of the researchers backed away from the paper, all but the lead researcher. Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license but remains, to this day, a lightning rod for anti-vaxxers. In fact, a visit by Wakefield to a small community in the U.S. state of Minnesota was linked to a spike in cases of measles after members of a local Somali community suddenly began refusing vaccines.
To this day, a surprisingly large number of people are eager to fight against vaccines, despite the proven impact of vaccines on public health and in doing away with entire diseases.
Anti-vaxxer movements are on the rise and spreading conspiracy theories like the idea that authorities are using vaccination campaigns to implant people with microchips or for population control.
Centuries of experience
And yet, vaccines of one kind or another have been in use since 1796, when Edward Jenner first used one that he developed to treat smallpox. In more than two centuries, billions of people have been vaccinated with tens of billions of shots. And still, anti-vaxxer movements are on the rise.
The reality is that there have been some problems with vaccines from time to time. But the problems are minuscule compared to the number of doses of vaccines that have been administered.
As Dr. Jerome Kim, the director general of the International Vaccine Institute told Anticentric, places like South Korea have eagerly adopted vaccines and this helped the country improve its health care outcomes.
And still, anti-vaxxer movements are on the rise and recruiting more people to their cause, in no small part thanks to social media amplifying their messages.
Vaccines and the world’s desperate need for one to deal with COVID-19, have triggered a significant debate about the value of vaccines. For the time being, the number of anti-vaxxers and those who are seriously hesitant about vaccines remains small, but they are often loud.