The World Health Organization, in January 2019, included ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the 10 threats to global health this year as there was an increase of 30% in measles cases worldwide in 2018.

  • The threat from vaccine hesitancy, which is defined as the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”, is posing a threat to public health.
  • Recently member-countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) South-East Asia Region resolved to eliminate the highly infectious childhood killer diseases measles and rubella by 2023.
What is Measles? Measles
  • Measles is a highly infectious illness caused by the rubeola virus.
  • It is an endemic disease, meaning it is continually present in a community, and many people develop resistance.
  • Spread- Measles is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of an infected person
  • Symptoms- Symptoms generally appear within 14 days of exposure to the virus.
  • General symptoms of measles are:
  1. Fever
  2. Hacking cough
  3. Red eyes
  4. Muscle pains
  5. Running nose
  6. Sore throat
  7. Sores inside the mouth
  8. Body rash appears within 4 – 5 days after the symptoms start
Increasing threat
  • Around 3,65,000 measles cases have been reported from 182 countries in the first six months of 2019.
  • The biggest increase, of 900% compared with the same period last year, has been from the WHO African region, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, and Nigeria accounting for most cases.
  • There has been a sharp increase in the WHO European region too with 90,000 cases recorded in the first six months.
  • Last month the K, Greece, the Czech Republic, and Albania lost their measles elimination status.
Vaccine hesitancy, a major reason
  • A 2018 report on vaccine confidence among the European Union member states found younger people (18-34 years) and those with less education are less likely to agree that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe.
  • According to a March 2019 report, only 52% of respondents from 28 EU member states agree that vaccines are definitely effective in preventing diseases, while 33% felt they were probably effective.
  • 48% of the respondents believed that vaccines cause serious side effects and 38% think vaccines actually cause the disease that they are supposed to protect against.
  • A striking similarity was seen in India too.
  • A 2018 study found low awareness to be the main reason why 45% of children missed different vaccinations in 121 Indian districts that have higher rates of unimmunized children.
  • While 24% did not get vaccinated due to apprehension about adverse effects, 11% were reluctant to get immunized for reasons other than fear of adverse effects.
  • Thus, much work remains to be done to address misinformation about vaccines.
Way forward
  • The only safe and effective way to truly protect yourself from the virus is through vaccination.
  • Measles vaccine not only provides lifelong protection against the virus but also reduces mortality from other childhood infections.
  • This is because measles viruses kill immune cells, leaving the child vulnerable to infectious diseases for two to three years.
  • It is recommended that children receive their first dose of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at 12 to 15 months of age, then again between 4 and 6 years old.
  • A single dose of the MMR vaccine is roughly 93% effective — and second dose bumps that figure up to 97%.
  • Social media can play a crucial role in spreading vaccine awareness.
  • Example- The decision by Facebook to “reduce distribution” of vaccine misinformation must be emulated by others. Read More Articles: Hepatitis B: About and concerns How Kerala Contained Nipah Virus Outbreak