Thanks, Jenny McCarthy.
Anti-vax beliefs are officially considered a top 10 global health threat, according to the World Health Organization.
“Vaccine hesitancy,” defined by the WHO as the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines,” was listed as one of the primary concerns in 2019. Anti-vaxxers threaten to “reverse progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease — it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved.
Measles, for example, has seen a 30% increase in cases globally. The reasons for this rise are complex, and not all of these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy. However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence.
In a sort of politically correct way, WHO acknowledges the extent of the problem. If countries are close to eliminating diseases and they come back, the most likely reason for that is vaccine misinformation and hysteria.
The organization goes on to explain the various reasons for non-vaccination, of which vaccine “hesitancy” is just one, and outline its plan for improved inoculation rates.
The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex; a vaccines advisory group to WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are key reasons underlying hesitancy. Health workers, especially those in communities, remain the most trusted advisor and influencer of vaccination decisions, and they must be supported to provide trusted, credible information on vaccines.
In 2019, WHO will ramp up work to eliminate cervical cancer worldwide by increasing coverage of the HPV vaccine, among other interventions. 2019 may also be the year when transmission of wild poliovirus is stopped in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Last year, less than 30 cases were reported in both countries. WHO and partners are committed to supporting these countries to vaccinate every last child to eradicate this crippling disease for good.
The list, which also mentions pollution and climate change as top threats, doesn’t go into details about the cultural reasons why the United States has such low vaccination rates despite having plenty of availability. That said, I have two words for you: Jenny McCarthy.
It’s obviously not all her fault. She is just a former Playboy model who happened to spread tons of misinformation. She’s only one of many celebrities to do the same (despite being completely uninformed about the entire topic), including Jim Carrey and even more recently, Kat Von D.
But McCarthy was an anti-vaxxer before it was cool, and she is one of the primary forces behind the resurrection of the so-called MMR/autism “link.” (It’s not like Andrew Wakefield had that kind of media attention on his own.) There is no downplaying how much she did to perpetuate that harmful myth, nor how many celebrities have mimicked her.
Regardless of where the blame lies, anti-vaxxers are a major health threat in 2019 and beyond. Which is to say our own ignorance is our own worst enemy.
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