8th November – An unwanted booster dose for vaccine hesitancy

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

What is ‘vaccine hesitancy’?

  • It is defined as [a] “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”.
  • According to WHO, vaccination prevents between two-three million deaths each year, a figure that will rise by another 1.5 million if vaccine coverage improves. Yet, a survey of over 1,40,000 people from 140 countries has revealed the striking difference in how people trust vaccines.

Global trust in vaccines –

  • At 95%, people from South Asia trusted vaccines followed by eastern Africa at 92%. Western Europe and eastern Europe brought up the rear with just 59% and 52%, respectively.
  • The repercussions of vaccine hesitance are now 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.

Vaccine hesitancy in India –

  • Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern in India. For instance, one of the main reasons for five times low uptake of oral polio vaccine in the early 2000s among poor Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh was the fear and the misconception that the polio vaccine caused illness, infertility and was ineffective.
  • Similarly, as recently as 2016, Muslim communities in two districts in north Kerala reported low uptake of diphtheria vaccine. One of the reasons: propaganda that the vaccine may contain microbes, chemicals and animal-derived products which is forbidden by Islamic law.
  • Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, which have traditionally seen high vaccine acceptance, witnessed low uptake of the measles-rubella vaccine when it was introduced in 2017. A reason was again a fear, spread through social media, of adverse effects from vaccination.
  • As a December 2018 study points out, 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; this was in 121 high priority districts chosen by the Health Ministry for intensified immunisation drive to increase vaccine coverage.

Way forward – The case for flu vaccination –

  • The reason why influenza should be taken seriously is 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 already proven that vaccination offers the best defence against flu and its potentially serious consequences, reduces flu illnesses, hospitalisations and even deaths.
  • Despite H1N1 (swine flu) becoming a seasonal flu virus strain in India even during summer, the uptake of flu vaccine in India is poor. The number of H1N1 influenza cases (42,592) and deaths (2,991) in India peaked in 2015.
  • A study in 2017 that looked at flu seasons between 2010 and 2014 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, lifethreatening complications” in children.

SourceThe Hindu

QUESTIONVaccine hesitancy is an orthodoxy that hinders the progress in our aim of ‘Healthy India’. What is vaccine hesitancy? Give a detailed background and way forward.

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