26 April 2019
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently released a statement online in which vaccine hesitancy was identified as a major threat to public health. The post lists ten threats to global health in 2019, placing vaccine hesitancy alongside Ebola, climate change and Anti-Microbial Resistance.
According to a WHO report, over 21 million lives have been saved through measles immunizations since the year 2000 however cases of measles rose thirty percent globally between 2016 and 2017, resulting in an estimated 110,000 deaths.
Although this marked increase is not attributable to a single cause, the rise of vaccine hesitancy is a significant factor. In the U.K measles came close to being eradicated in the 1990s however a drop in the numbers of parents choosing to vaccinate meant that incidents of the disease rose again. Recent outbreaks in New York have again raised concerns about falling vaccination rates.
Anti-vaccine movements have contributed to vaccine hesitancy among the general population by targeting parents on social media. YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram have all acknowledged the danger of allowing such groups to proliferate and have all recently taken steps to stem the spread of misinformation.
In a statement Facebook, which owns Instagram, said: "We are working to tackle vaccine misinformation…by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic."
GoFundMe, the largest crowdfunding platform have also made a commitment to de-platforming anti- vaccine lobbyists. Bobby Whithorne, a spokesman for GoFundMe said, “Campaigns raising money to promote misinformation about vaccines violate GoFundMe’s terms of service and will be removed from the platform.”
In a similar vein, Pinterest recently announced it would temporarily block any vaccine-related searches while continuing to refine its’ strategy for ensuring that dangerous misinformation cannot be shared on the platform.
The UK's Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, has publically called for legislation to force social media companies to remove content promoting false information about vaccines. Hancock said the government is working with platforms to identify misleading material which could pose a risk to public health.
CoMO have acknowledged Matt Hancock’s efforts to take action against dangerous web content. In a letter to Hancock, Sam Nye, Chief Executive of CoMO stated:
“The exploitation of parents’ fears must be acknowledged and these conversations had so as not to relegate the issue of anti-vaccine rhetoric to the online world, diminishing its importance, when it actually has very tangible and harmful consequences.
The importance of vaccines will only continue to rise due to anti-microbial resistance, which threatens the efficacy of the standard treatment of meningitis. As we continue to advocate for vaccines and to counter mistruths, we look forward to the continued support of the UK government.”
Public awareness about the life saving capacity of vaccines is critical to CoMO’s mission to defeat meningitis - a largely vaccine-preventable disease.
In spite of the increase of vaccine hesitancy or complacency among some groups, the WHO are committed to using vaccines to eliminate preventable diseases all around the world.
The WHO report pledges that it will ramp up work to eliminate cervical cancer worldwide by increasing coverage of the HPV vaccine. It also states that 2019 may see an end to the transmission of wild poliovirus in Afghanistan and Pakistan, claiming that, “WHO and partners are committed to supporting these countries to vaccinate every last child to eradicate this crippling disease for good.”
Want to read CoMO's letter in full?
Gwen works at CoMO’s head office in the UK and provides administrative support to the CoMO team. Gwen has a background in social justice and has worked in charity organisations that promote equality and opportunity for all.