Are Anti-Vaxxers a Major Health Threat? The World Health Organization Says Yes.

Miami Children’s Hospital pediatrician Dr. Amanda Porro prepares to administer a measles vaccination to Sophie Barquin, age four, as her mother, Gabrielle Barquin, holds her during a visit to the Miami Children’s Hospital on January 28th, 2015, in Miami, Florida.

The World Health Organization has named vaccine hesitancy, which the organization defines as a “reluctance or refusal” to vaccinate even when vaccines are available, as one of the top 10 health threats of 2019.

Today considered one of the greatest public-health achievements in modern history, vaccines have been met with skepticism and opposition since they were first introduced in the 18th century. Back then, the disease of the day was smallpox, and inoculation involved placing a slice of smallpox sores into the open wounds of healthy individuals to prevent outbreaks from spreading.

To many, the idea that exposure to an illness might confer protection seemed counterintuitive, but the mechanisms and benefits of vaccinations have been borne out by science. The WHO notes that vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways to ward off disease, preventing between two and three million deaths every year. 

But skepticism persists, thanks in large part to a fraudulent 1998 study from a researcher named Andrew Wakefield. The attorneys representing parents in a lawsuit against measles vaccine manufacturers paid Wakefield to fabricate evidence showing that the vaccines were linked to autism. Despite the fact that the paper was quickly retracted and Wakefield was found guilty of professional misconduct and had his medical license revoked, anti-vaccination sentiment has only become more entrenched in the years since. 

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