History of vaccination takes us to the 18th century. The first scientific attempt to curb an
infectious disease by the careful use of vaccination is credited to Edward
Jenner. In strict sense, he did not discover vaccination but he was the first
person to confer scientific status on the procedure and to pursue its
scientific investigation. Since the
introduction of the first vaccine, there has been opposition to vaccination.
Fear and mistrust arose every time a vaccine was introduced. A burgeoning
anti-vaccination movement hindered routine inoculation with cowpox to protect
people against smallpox in the 19th century, though the benefit of the vaccine
was as clear as daylight. What can be referred to as the aftermath were ongoing
smallpox outbreaks and needless deaths. Small
pox was eradicated only because of the advent of vaccination.
include people who are ignorant about science
. There are radical groups who
use deliberate mistruths, intimidation, falsified data, and threats of violence
in efforts to prevent the use of vaccines and to silence critics. They have
complete mistrust of government and manufacturers and indulge in conspiratorial
thinking denialism flawed thinking and have a habit of substituting emotional
anecdotes for data. Their deeds can only lead to disruptive and costly effects
in terms of damage to individual and community's well-being.†
The irrationality of the anti-vaccinationists was openly
criticised by Sir William Osler, one of the finest and greatest figures in
modern medicine.† A frustrated Osler
openly challenged their claims in 1910.
The 1940s and the early 1960s saw a major downturn in
anti-vaccination movement. This was because of three key factors:
ē A boom in vaccine science, discovery, and manufacture
ē Public awareness of widespread outbreaks of infectious
diseases (measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, polio, and others) and the desire
to protect children from these highly prevalent ills
ē A baby boom, accompanied by increasing levels of education
With such widespread public acceptance, it was an era that
enjoyed fewer disease outbreaks, illnesses, and deaths. This was however
short-lived due to emergence of many viral strains. Anti-vaccine thinking took
an evil rebirth in the 1970s. Perhaps the success of vaccination itself was the
culprit. There were fewer highly visible outbreaks of infectious disease
threatening the public and more and more new vaccines being added to the
vaccine schedules. The media began to disseminate poor science and anecdotal
claims of harm from vaccines. A 1982 television program entitled "DPT: Vaccine Roulette"
global debate that lead to many countries dropping their programs of universal
DPT (Diphteria, Pertusis, Tetanus) vaccination.
However a 10 to 100 times increase in the incidence of
pertussis (whooping cough) incidence forced the same nations to reinstate the
vaccination. Similarly, a 1998 publication of an article by Wakefield et al.
created a worldwide controversy over the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.
It claimed that the MMR vaccine played a
causative role in autism
. This claim led to decreased use of MMR vaccine in
Britain, Ireland, the United States, and other countries.
Soon after measles outbreaks became more common. The article was retracted recently by the Lancet. The British Medical
Journal reported that the vaccine scare was financially motivated
Anti-vaccinationists ignited a strong public fear of
vaccination, during the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009 and 2010. In spite of
the absence of evidence of harm from vaccination, millions of doses of vaccine
were wasted worldwide.
Anti-vaccination movements lead to the re-emergence of
previously controlled diseases.† 'The
worst† pertussis outbreaks in the past 50
years are now occurring in California, where 10 deaths have already been
reported among infants and young children,'
reports The New England
Journal of Medicine (NEJM).
It is high time that we work to hasten the death of† anti-vaccination campaigns. In one of the
finest articles produced by NEJM ('The Age-Old Struggle against the
Anti-vaccinationists'), the authors recommended the following strategies to
ē Fund and publish
to investigate concerns about vaccine safety
ē Maintain, if not improve, monitoring programs, such as the
Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) and the Clinical Immunization
Safety Assessment Network. This is to ensure coverage of real but rare adverse
events that may be related to vaccination. VAERS must be expanded to make
compensation available to anyone, regardless of age, who is legitimately
injured by a vaccine.
ē Teach health care professionals, parents, and patients how
to counter anti-vaccinationists' false and injurious claims. Evidence-based decision making must be
ē Enhance public
education and public persuasion
. Scientific literacy should be extended to
at all levels of education. Public-private partnerships of scientists and
physicians can ensure that accurate vaccine information is accessible to the
public in multiple languages, on a range of reading levels, and through various
Anti-vaccinationists have done significant harm to the
public health. None of the anti-vaccinationists' claims of widespread injury
from vaccines have withstood the tests of time and science. It is meaningless
to take debates to higher levels. So far nothing scientific exists to support
an eternal anti-vaccination drive. Moreover 'science is not a democracy in
which the side with the most votes or the loudest voices gets to decide what is
The New England
Journal of Medicine