Anti-vaxxer sentiment spiked during the 1998 MMR scare, when the since-disgraced gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, buoyed by sensationalist tabloids, linked the MMR jab to autism, something that’s been thoroughly debunked. As noted by The Guardian, the MMR jab rates recovered post-Wakefield in Europe, but persistent anti-vaxxer sentiment is clearly causing enormous problems even today.
It also doesn’t help that plenty of anti-establishment parties or politicians that have been on the ascendant have strongly engaged with anti-vaxxer ideals before, citing unfounded medical concerns or libertarian issues regarding "personal freedom and choice". Italy’s recently empowered coalition government between a far-right and populist party, for example, just overturned a previous ruling that made vaccinations for schoolchildren in the country mandatory.
As the WHO press release notes, immunization coverage of the measles vaccine increased from 88 percent of eligible children in the region in 2016 to 90 percent in 2017. At the same time, 43 of the region’s 53 member states have successfully interrupted the endemic (12-month-long, homegrown) spread of measles as of 2017.
Progress is being made, but it’s uneven, with individual communities achieving 95 percent coverage while others bubble below 70 percent. Those local pockets of unimmunized populations drive persistent outbreaks of what is an incredibly contagious disease.
The solution is obvious, but unless people are forced to get vaccinated, it’s unclear how to break through the anti-vaxxer, “it’s my choice as a parent” attitude. A recent study found that anti-vaxxers suffer from a well-known psychological effect, one in which the most ignorant are the most confident in their beliefs.
With that in mind, it’s clear that presenting them with factual information isn’t enough; their beliefs are driven by something deeper and more complex. Until that’s circumvented, lives will continue to be lost.