WHO hits back at anti-vaccine deniers

Just because a disease seems long gone, there is no reason to rein in vaccination against it, according to the WHO.


Afp April 23, 2014
"We have a huge proportion of people who believe in vaccines. They need to help us convey the messages," he added. PHOTO: ONLINE/FILE

GENEVA: The World Health Organization hit back on Wednesday against vaccine deniers who claim that immunisation is pointless, risky and that the body is better off fighting disease unaided.

"The impact of vaccines on people's lives is truly one of the best things that one could see out there," said Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, head of the UN health agency's immunisation and vaccines division.

Opposition to routine vaccination of children against contagious diseases such as measles and whooping cough has been on the rise in recent years, notably in the United States and Britain.

A hardline minority disputes the necessity of vaccination outright, while doubters focus on fears such as the alleged links between measles vaccines and autism, rejected by the overwhelming majority of scientists.

"We're trying hard to contain and reverse the trend," Okwo-Bele told reporters.

"We have a huge proportion of people who believe in vaccines. They need to help us convey the messages," he added.

The total or near-complete disappearance of many killer or crippling diseases in rich nations has bred complacency, according to the WHO.

"The important thing about complacency is that the number of susceptible people who resist or reject facts and information will accumulate, and the disease will come back, as you're seeing in the United States with measles and whooping cough, which are terrible diseases," said WHO immunisation expert Tracey Goodman.

"It's a tragedy that could be avoided," she said.

Just because a disease seems long gone, there is no reason to rein in vaccination against it, according to the WHO.

"All of this needs sustainability. For polio, it's not because your country has been polio-free for 10 or 15 years that there is no risk, so long as the disease has not been completely wiped out worldwide," said Okwo-Bele.

Rolling back vaccination in some countries also undermines the global fight against disease, the WHO warned.

"When we look at the number of people being vaccinated each year, for childhood vaccination we're seeing close to 85 per cent being vaccinated, so this is still really good," Okwo-Bele said, underlining that up to three million lives are saved as a result.

"But each new cohort must be vaccinated. We will reap the full benefits of vaccines only if all individuals in all communities receive the vaccines they need. And clearly this is a shared responsibility," he added.

Developing countries have seen resistance in some areas to vaccination, for example in northern Nigeria and Pakistan where polio immunisation campaigns have been dubbed as a foreign conspiracy by local opponents.

And war also takes its toll, with polio rearing its head in Syria, previously free of the disease thanks to widespread immunisation.

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COMMENTS (5)

Raj - USA | 7 years ago | Reply @Blunt: It is not that just 0.0001% of the population that is affected by polio. It is much more than that that is threatening the world. It is the mindset ..... the opposition to polio vaccinations .... the tendency to get religious verdicts even to get vaccinated ....... overall the sick mentality that irritates and is despised by the world community. I agree that other countries, including India had the problem but it was the problem from one community that is so illiterate and do not see sense. However, they have changed. But, in Pakistan, everything is seen in the colored prism of religion. Today, it is polio vaccinations, but tomorrow it will be other issues. Even other programs like family planning, education, particularly the curriculum that wants to include more religion are suffering. Don't look at it as an isolated issue. To me, it is insanity to the extreme that in some countries it requires the sanction of an uneducated mulla in these matters.
Hmm | 7 years ago | Reply

I think "Northern Nigeria" is a Muslim dominated area like Pakistan . That's why they are opposing polio vaccines . They believe it would make their children impotent and they can't produce 10-15 children per wife.

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