Children die from not being vaccinated. Outbreaks of easily preventable diseases, like measles, are robbing people of lives when they could have been saved by a 20-second-long inoculation. Two million children die every year because their parents failed to vaccinate them. There is absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause any sort of harm to the individual, but campaigns of misinformation continue to spread, and the vulnerable keep dying as a result.
Some governments have taken quite a hard line against “anti-vaxxers,” most notably Australia’s, who recently declared that parents will lose welfare payments if they fail to vaccinate their kids. Now, Uganda’s government has announced that it will jail parents for up to six months if they fail to vaccinate their children, reports BBC News.
The law, signed this month by President Yoweri Museveni, will also require kids to hold an up-to-date immunization card, or else they won’t receive an education. Uganda’s infrastructure and medical services are nowhere near as good as the world’s developed nations, and as a result, far more Ugandans die from preventable diseases like polio.
Nevertheless, as noted by the World Health Organization, immunization efforts have been ramped up in the last decade. In April 2009, Uganda vaccinated over 2.3 million children from polio, in response to a sudden outbreak of the disease. In 1990, the immunization rate for diphtheria in Uganda was just over 40 percent, but as of 2015, it’s nearing 80 percent.
Polio is the focus of a worldwide vaccination effort. petarg/Shutterstock
So if things have been improving, why has this new law been introduced? Well, as tends to be the case these days, it’s a response to a powerful campaign of misinformation by anti-vaxxers. In this case, a religious sect named 666 are spreading their poisonous anti-vaccination ideology through the country, frightening parents into believing that vaccines aren’t necessary.
The cult, also known as “The People of the Gospel,” has been seen turning away vaccination officials from villages, claiming that witch doctors could heal all ailments “traditionally.” They believe that the world is entering the end-times and that the apocalypse is imminent. These are clearly not the people you would take vaccination advice from, but their fear-inducing rhetoric is successfully spreading both disease and illiteracy through parts of the country.
“It started in a few districts in eastern Uganda, but now it has spread and now we are seeing it all over the country,” Health Minister Sarah Achieng Opendi told BBC News. This new law may make some headway in reducing the number of Ugandan children that have not been vaccinated, which the government estimates to be around 3 percent.
Medical officials from around the world will be monitoring the situation closely to see how effective it is at countering 666’s misinformation campaign, particularly in the U.S., where easily preventable diseases are flaring up thanks to similar nefarious anti-vaxxer efforts. Case in point: Despite the fact that measles was completely eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, 9 million American children are now at risk of contracting it.
The scientific community is fighting back, though – researchers, experts, and filmmakers rallied together to get an anti-vaccination movie pulled from NYC’s Tribeca film festival.