Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] An unwanted booster dose for vaccine hesitancy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Immunisation and its importance

Context

In January, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed “vaccine hesitancy” as among the top 10 threats to global health this year.

Vaccine Hesitancy

  • It is defined as a “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.
  • The repercussions of vaccine hesitancy are playing out globally — as, on October 10, 2019, nearly 4,24,000 children have confirmed measles, as against a figure of 1,73,000 in the whole of 2018.

Vaccination

  • According to WHO, vaccination prevents between two-three million deaths each year.
  • This figure will rise by another 1.5 million if vaccine coverage improves. 
  • A survey of over 1,40,000 people from 140 countries has revealed the striking difference in how people trust vaccines.
    • At 95%, people from South Asia trusted vaccines followed by eastern Africa at 92%. 
    • Western Europe and eastern Europe were just 59% and 52% respectively. 

The Indian perspective

  • Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern in India. 
    • One of the main reasons for the five times low uptake of oral polio vaccine in the early 2000s among poor Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh was the fear that the polio vaccine caused illness, infertility and was ineffective.
    • In 2016, Muslim communities in two districts in north Kerala reported low uptake of the diphtheria vaccine. One of the reasons was propaganda that the vaccine may contain microbes, chemicals, and animal-derived products which are forbidden by Islamic law.
  • Wrong propaganda – Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have traditionally seen high vaccine acceptance. They witnessed low uptake of the measles-rubella vaccine because of fear, spread through social media, of adverse effects from vaccination.
  • Fear of adverse consequences – A December 2018 study points out that vaccine hesitancy continues to be a huge challenge for India. The study found nearly a quarter of parents did not vaccinate their children out of a fear of adverse events. 
  • Priority districts – This was in 121 high priority districts chosen by the Health Ministry for intensified immunisation drive to increase vaccine coverage.
  • Cultural influence – A yogi in India, Jaggi Vasudev tweeted a dangerous message. “The significance of vaccination against many debilitating diseases should not be played down. It is important it is not overdone, without taking into consideration the many side-effects or negative impacts of vaccinations.”
  • Blaming vaccines – falsely blaming vaccines for unrelated diseases is the bedrock of the anti-vaccination movement across the globe. Even today, the message by British physician Andrew Wakefield, who linked the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism, is used in spreading vaccine doubts and conspiracy theories.

Flu vaccine

  • Children older than six months and younger than five years belong to the high-risk category and are recommended a “vaccination against flu each year”. 
  • WHO too recognises children below five years as a high-risk group and recommends vaccination each year.
  • Influenza should be taken seriously because in the U.S. alone, since 2010, an estimated 7,000-26,000 children younger than five are hospitalised each year. Many end up dying. 
  • It is proven that vaccination offers the best defence against the flu and its potentially serious consequences, reduces flu illnesses, hospitalisations and even deaths.
  • H1N1 (swine flu) became a seasonal flu virus strain in India even during the summer. The uptake of the flu vaccine in India is poor. 
  • Several studies have shown that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of flu illness by 40-60% when there is a good match between the strains used in the vaccine and the circulating virus. 
  • A study in 2017 found that vaccination reduced flu-associated deaths by 65% among healthy children. 
  • The vaccine can also prevent hospitalisation, reduce the severity of illness and “prevent severe, life-threatening complications” in children.
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