The World Health Organisation has listed ‘vaccine hesitancy’, the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services, as one of the top 10 global threats in 2019.
Fear is a powerful emotion. When people are afraid, they react. With regard to vaccine hesitancy, this fear has been fuelled by social media – bad news travels fast, and is often taken out of context.
There only has to be one child with a severe side effect; even if a million other children did not get any side effects, that one case will be the story you hear about.
People tend to believe the media, even if there is no source of evidence presented: people do not question that. So my advice is to always look and find out if the actual evidence is mentioned! The evidence itself might not be easy to interpret: VaccineSafetyNet.org is an informative website that introduced an international certification mark that can help you to find out if the information you found is trustworthy.
Another thing is that nowadays people do not easily trust the government or doctors. A lot of parents feel that immunisation is being imposed on them. For example, if polio is no longer around, why would I inject my child (and induce pain and fear) with a polio vaccine? However, the fact is that none of the diseases we give vaccines for are fully eradicated yet, except for Polio Type 2 and Type 3. Polio Type 1 is still found in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan. So even polio could still spread again if we stop vaccinating.
A lot of the fear-mongering on the internet revolves around the claim that vaccinations cause autism and diabetes. Let’s tackle these claims one at a time.
Vaccinations do not cause autism. In 1998, there was an English doctor that saw children getting the first symptoms of autism after receiving the MMR vaccine. But autism can be a hereditary disease where symptoms usually first get noticed between one and two years of age, exactly the time when the MMR vaccine is given. This misinterpretation of a link between the two is easily made. In the years after, lots of research has been done to find out if this claim could be true, and none of the researchers found any relationship between immunisation and autism.
The claim concerning diabetes comes from a study where researchers found a relationship between vaccines and the onset of diabetes in mice. For humans, a lot of very well controlled studies have been done over the past few decades, which all prove there is no increased risk of getting diabetes. There are studies that suggest a relationship between the two, but personally I have never seen any hard evidence that proves any vaccine would cause diabetes.
I do not see much of an anti-vaccination trend in the UAE, but I do see confused questions from a lot of parents, primarily because immunisation schedules are different from their home countries. There are also parents overwhelmed by the fact their baby got two injections right at birth. What is more, they were not informed about that and did not have time to actually think if they wanted to give them to their child. This does not help with the trust in the health system, and thus does not help when it comes to complying with immunisation.
Ultimately, it is the parents’ decision whether to postpone the immunisation schedule, or not to vaccinate at all. This decision, however, should be based on the right information and then respected.
Dr Caecilia Verlinden is a Dutch specialist in family and anthroposophical medicine with over eight years of experience under her belt. She graduated from Utrecht Univeristy in the Netherlands, and went on to work in Zambia and specialise in anthriposophical medicine.