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Living without vaccines. should we?

Vaccine-preventable diseases are infectious diseases for which effective vaccines exist to prevent infection and spread. There are various vaccine-preventable diseases that we encounter on a day-to-day basis, such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), poliomyelitis (polio), hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, rabies, tuberculosis (TB), and many more. Vaccines are crucial for […]

Vaccine-preventable diseases are infectious diseases for which effective vaccines exist to prevent infection and spread. There are various vaccine-preventable diseases that we encounter on a day-to-day basis, such as measles, mumps, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), poliomyelitis (polio), hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), pneumococcal disease, rotavirus, rabies, tuberculosis (TB), and many more. Vaccines are crucial for public health as they reduce the incidence of these diseases, decrease the severity of illness, and prevent outbreaks.

There are two sides to this story. On one hand, we know that before the advent of vaccines, many infectious diseases were major causes of morbidity and mortality. Smallpox, polio, measles, and diphtheria caused widespread suffering and death. On the other hand, vaccination programs have had controversies arising from a combination of safety concerns, misinformation, ethical debates, and socio-political factors.

Despite the fact that vaccination programs have been instrumental in eradicating diseases, some have also impacted people’s trust in vaccines and contributed to vaccine hesitancy. Many pressure groups around the globe claim vaccines cause severe side effects, including chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and neurological disorders.

Some people oppose mandatory vaccination policies, citing personal freedom, religious beliefs, or mistrust in the government and pharmaceutical companies.

Media coverage of alleged adverse effects has sometimes been sensationalized, contributing to public fear and vaccine hesitancy. Misinformation, such as claims that vaccinating young people against HPV could encourage sexual activity or that polio vaccines cause infertility, has spread through mass media. .

Vaccine hesitancy and refusal are influenced by a variety of factors, including cultural, social, political, and individual reasons. Common reasons why certain countries or population groups may not want to take vaccines include the spread of false information, cultural beliefs that natural healing is better than artificial inputs, distrust in local governments, and memories of adverse events that may have occurred after vaccination.
Numerous research studies have explored the safety, efficacy, and public health impact of vaccines. For example, the Salk Polio Vaccine Trials (1954) demonstrated that the polio vaccine was safe and highly effective, leading to widespread use and a dramatic reduction in polio cases globally. Studies on the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine have confirmed its safety and efficacy. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine trials have assessed the vaccine’s effectiveness and demonstrated high efficacy in preventing cervical and other cancers caused by HPV, leading to widespread recommendation and adoption.

It is time we understand and accept the importance of vaccination. First and foremost, vaccination helps establish herd immunity, protecting those who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Secondly, vaccines reduce the severity of diseases, leading to fewer complications and deaths. We know that widespread vaccination has significantly lowered mortality rates from infectious diseases globally. Thirdly, preventing disease through vaccination decreases the need for medical treatments, hospitalizations, and associated healthcare costs. Finally, preventing outbreaks helps maintain stable economic conditions by avoiding the disruptions caused by widespread illness and healthcare crises.

Living without vaccination would have significant negative consequences for public health, individual well-being, and societal stability. Without vaccination, diseases that are currently rare or eradicated in many regions, such as measles, polio, and smallpox, could resurge. Outbreaks would put immense pressure on healthcare systems, leading to significant increases in healthcare costs, including hospitalization, intensive care, and long-term treatment.

At this juncture, we need to address vaccine hesitancy more prominently in mainstream movies and media. Given the significant impact of vaccines on public health and the rising issue of vaccine hesitancy, it would be beneficial to see more films addressing this topic.

This can be done in numerous ways. For example, highlighting the journey of scientists and public health officials who work tirelessly to develop and distribute vaccines, showcasing their dedication and the challenges they face. Films can also depict the roots of vaccine hesitancy, especially the influence of misinformation, historical mistrust, and cultural factors. Educational series that explain the science behind vaccines, the process of vaccine development, and the rigorous safety testing they undergo would be helpful. Storylines about vaccine development and vaccine hesitancy can be integrated into popular medical dramas, similar to how issues like organ donation and mental health are addressed. Even superhero stories where characters fight against infectious diseases and misinformation, portraying vaccines as powerful tools for good, can be developed. Another helpful effort could be developing films that depict historical events related to vaccines, such as the eradication of smallpox or the development of the polio vaccine. Highlighting the successes of past vaccination efforts can provide a powerful argument for their importance.

Dr Benazir Patil is the Chief Executive Officer of SCHOOL, a non-profit organization that works for ensuring good health & well-being.

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OpinionTDGThe Daily GuardianVaccines