Editorial: Vaccine hesitancy threatens 'historical achievements' in infectious disease fight

Vaccine hesitancy is stemming the progress made in mitigating infectious diseases that have sickened and killed people for hundreds of years, authors write in an editorial published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health.

The World Health Organization defined vaccine hesitancy as "a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services."

More than 90 percent of the world's countries report vaccine hesitancy, according to the authors. Coverage for the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine has dropped in many parts of the world, resulting in a 30 percent increase in measles worldwide. The U.S., which announced the eradication of measles in 2000, is now in the midst of a massive outbreak, totaling 695 measles cases.

This year, the WHO named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health.

The editorial emphasized the role of pediatricians, family physicians and health policymakers in promoting vaccination.

Physicians must be clear about the risks vaccine refusal or delay can have on a child's health and well-being, the authors write, pointing out that "physicians' advice has been shown to be the most important predictor of vaccine acceptance."

The WHO has developed training modules to help physicians have these conversations with patients.

Lawmakers must also educate the public and implement laws to increase immunization. The authors highlight several countries where the government has stepped in to mandate vaccinations, such as France, where 11 vaccines are required for a child's enrollment in a nursery or school.

Misinformation on media platforms needs to be tackled effectively, the authors write. Kyle Yasuda, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reached out to the CEOs of several technology companies, including Google and Facebook, to request their involvement. Facebook has pledged to remove groups and pages spreading misinformation from its recommendation algorithm.

"Vaccine hesitancy is threatening the historical achievements made in reducing the burden of infectious diseases, which have plagued humanity for centuries," the authors write. "Only a collaborative effort between paediatricians, family doctors, parents, public health officials, governments, the technology sector and civil society will allow myths and misinformation around vaccination to be dispelled."

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