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.
What is Measles?
- 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.
- 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:
- Hacking cough
- Red eyes
- Muscle pains
- Running nose
- Sore throat
- Sores inside the mouth
- Body rash appears within 4 – 5 days after the symptoms start
Vaccine hesitancy, a major reason
- 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.
- 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.
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- 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.