- Vaccine hesitancy is probably as old as vaccines itself.
- People have, through the years, distrusted vaccines, for various reasons, even as the results in terms of health outcomes were obvious.
- Post pandemic, the antivax campaign has been reflected in the poor levels of uptake of COVID vaccinations, even when they were available free of cost, as in India.
A look at the past
- Vaccines are the tools by which nations can achieve protection from mortality and morbidity from serious, life threatening infections for their people.
- The invention of the small pox vaccine in 1796 began the era of vaccinations and over the years, the technologies and processes involved in developing vaccines have grown smarter and advanced.
- Parallelly, vaccine hesitancy also grew seeing a milestone when Wakefield’s article in The Lancet, which was later withdrawn, drew a link between autism and the vaccine against rubella, mumps and measles.
- Anti vaxxers organised themselves into proper groups and networks that lobbied state legislatures and promoted conservative political candidates with antivaccine positions in the US.
- The leveraging of social media, including using common naming conventions, branding and cross promotions, to spread their ideas started even before the pandemic.
- Harassment and threats to healthcare and public health professionals began on social media, in the form of attacks and troll bots.
- The start of the COVID19 vaccine trials and its rather unprecedented wide media coverage seemed to provide opportunities for anti vaccine activists to discredit the vaccine development and evaluation process, particularly since it was fast tracked considering the urgency of the pandemic.
Strategies and recommendations
- Three strategies are recommended to combat this in the U.S.
- Firstly, they call to develop networked communities capable of reaching the public at the right time, at the right place, and with the right messenger about vaccine related information — especially to preempt and prebunk well funded and amplified messages disseminated by the anti vaccine movement.
- Secondly, interdisciplinary and intersectoral collaborations are essential for developing effective responses.
- Finally, these networked and coordinated communities should be leveraged to counter relevant trends in anti vaccine efforts, including separating narratives about liberty from anti vaccine attitudes and mitigating anti vaccine activist harassment of public health communicators.
The paper thus highlights an urgent issue in health care globally, one that nations will do well to intercept before it grows any further.