Education Must Accompany Global Vaccination Distribution

I don’t like to think of vaccines as controversial. I went to an alternative school where many parents chose not to vaccinate their kids. I never understood it. Not vaccinating against at least the classics, such as mumps, measles and rubella or polio, seems both foolish and selfish.

It’s like trying to preserve this natural and pure state of the human body, when really our bodies encounter weird microbes all the time, whether we want them to or not.

Vaccination is a privilege. People who haven’t been vaccinated for MMR and polio will have to take precautions to keep themselves from situations or places where they may be exposed to the pathogens. Most people in the world don’t have the luxury of being sheltered from so much.

Additionally, people who choose not to be vaccinated put immunocompromised people, who can’t get vaccines for health reasons, at risk. Foregoing vaccination lessens societal herd immunity by increasing the proportion of people in the population who can acquire and transmit diseases.

Despite how wonderful vaccines are, I do want to acknowledge they have an aspect that is very problematic. Focusing on vaccine development doesn’t account for the socioeconomic or political institutions that directly affect health quality and care. Health has to be looked at holistically. Vaccines shouldn’t be characterized as magic bullets that will fix the global burden of disease. Vaccine development is not the ultimate goal of global health; it’s just a strategy. Vaccine production alone contributes to the commodification of health care because it presents vaccination as a big enough commitment to a patient’s health, ignoring all other factors.

One of the reasons polio hasn’t quite been eradicated is because healthcare workers don’t always bother to properly explain the vaccines to the villages they work in in South Asia and Africa. As a result, many people refuse vaccinations because they believe the polio vaccine is actually a plot to sterilize Muslims and that their children are likely to face things worse than disease. The politicization of the polio vaccine demonstrates that even something as objective as a vaccine cannot be looked at without intersectionality.

Disease proliferates especially well in unsanitary and unstable conditions. Take tuberculosis, for example. Though antibiotics played a substantial role in its decline in the early 20th century, many public health experts believe increased standard of living and de-crowding of slums made a bigger impact. The number of tuberculosis deaths in the United States decreased by 76.6 percent between 1900 and 1940 before the successful antibiotic therapies were in place. This goes to show that vaccines are not always the “magic bullets” that have the biggest effect.

Education should go hand in hand with vaccination efforts to combat all of the misinformation out there in both the developed and developing world. Across the world, fear of science is being used to take advantage of people and their health decisions. The scientific community has largely rejected claims that vaccines cause autism, cancer or sterilization because there is no evidence that supports it. The original study linking autism to the MMR vaccine has been retracted. However, the lasting damage of that study continues to give people doubts about whether vaccination is the best idea.

Vaccines strive to be invisible. You know they are working when nothing happens. However, development of the smallpox vaccine led to its eradication worldwide: the first and only instance of a human pathogen being completely eradicated. It’s important for people to get vaccinated as one of many strategies to improve global health.




Filed under: Columnists Opinion

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