Vaccination programs should be trusted


VACCINES have saved the lives of billions by giving protection against infections that at worst can kill, such as the effect of measles during pregnancy, or at the very least can seriously damage future quality of life. Since the 18th century British scientists turned a Turkish discovery into a viable vaccine against smallpox, there has been a steady advance in such protection against wide range of conditions, including influenza. Indeed thanks to worldwide inoculation, the disfiguring and life-threatening smallpox has been eradicated.

Yet health experts, including the United Nations’ World Health Organization are warning that the extraordinary achievements of vaccines are being undermined by a growing resistance against inoculation, motivated in large measure by distrust.

This is not simply a problem for people who have not been given all the available jabs. It is also a risk for those who have. The ill-advised misuse of antibiotics for virtually any illness, even a common cold against which they are useless, has been compounded by the refusal of many to complete a course of treatment. The long-term effect of this is that the pathogens which antibiotics were designed to defeat are able to evolve new strains that can resist treatment.

In the same way, bugs that could be kept at bay by vaccines are able, in un-inoculated victims, to morph into infections that will prove harder to prevent. The influenza vaccine is a case in point. Every year medical scientists try to identify the likely new strains and build vaccines to combat them. Health systems stock pile the vaccines for the winter ‘flu season but experience shows that they have not always predicted correctly. Two years ago ’flu vaccine expensively bought by the UK’s National Health Service proved to be virtually useless.

In a new survey of 140,000 people in 140 countries, it has been discovered that only 79 percent of respondents absolutely agreed that vaccines were necessary. It is comforting to note that the result for the Kingdom was way above the world average with 85 percent of people fully backing inoculation.

The survey found that a significant minority of people did not trust their governments. In Britain, after controversial research linked a marked rise in autism to the inoculation of children against measles, mumps and rubella in a single vaccine, there was a push-back against the program. Parents sought to have their children given separate jabs for each condition, which the health system was not set up to provide. Likewise in France, where only 49 percent support vaccination, there have been scares the government had bought-in substandard vaccines. The Macron administration has now made some vaccines compulsory.

Rumors and rumors of rumor have been greatly boosted by social media which have played a notably malign role in public distrust, not simply of medical programs but of governments and institutions. What this points to is a failure by the responsible authorities to make their case clearly and simply and to respond sensibly to questions from a naturally concerned public. Calling people idiots who reject clear evidence and straightforward common sense is unfortunately not going to make them any less idiotic. Indeed it will merely foster the suspicion that blustering authorities have something to hide. Unless information is presented intelligibly and calmly, there will always be someone who will peddle the idea of a gigantic conspiracy.