A recent survey reveals that one in three Americans would be reluctant to receive a vaccine against Covid-19, and the anti-vaccine nebula has gained at least 7.8 million new followers on social media since 2019. As has the pandemic , misinformation and anti-vaccine rumors know no borders. The most tragic thing is that the waltz-hesitation about the vaccination which results from it will especially endanger the poor.
GENEVA – The poorest have already been hit hard by the pandemic. They are the ones who lose their livelihood, as well as access to nutrition and health care, and ultimately die. An increasing number of women and children from marginalized populations are currently falling outside of the coverage of public services as evidenced by the increased frequency of gender-based violence, the rise in teenage pregnancies and the decline in skilled labor during childbirth. Another million children could lose their lives in the next six months due to repercussions of the pandemic and most of these deaths would take place among disadvantaged classes.
Vaccines protect up to three million lives each year. Indeed, it is often the first and only health services that reach disadvantaged households. People living in precarious conditions and without basic sanitation, sanitation, clean water, cleaning products and adequate food are at greater risk of contracting a disease that could have been prevented by vaccination and even to die of it. In addition, when they are sick, it is not uncommon for them to lack the means to access health care. A vaccine immunity helps fight disease and reduce preventable child mortality in poor communities. For these reasons, vaccination is the best way to ensure their survival.
By conveying false information, the anti-vaccine movement risksincrease the risk of death among destitute children. A surge in vaccine misinformation in the Philippines is largely responsible for the country’s child immunization rate plummeting from 87% in 2014 to 68% today. This situation has led to an upsurge in polio and several cases of measles, especially among poor people.
Likewise, in Cameroon, false rumors claiming that the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV) could cause infertility lead parents to refuse to allow their daughters to be vaccinated. This has the effect of exposing millions of girls to the virus which causes 90% of all cervical cancer cases and kills 311,000 women each year, mostly in low-income countries. It is young underprivileged girls who need this vaccine the most. In fact, they often do not have access to testing services and their families cannot afford expensive treatments. The HPV vaccine is their best protection.
Most women who die of cervical cancer are in their prime and are survived by their offspring. Their death therefore carries heavy social and economic costs, particularly among poor populations. Are the protagonists of the anti-vaccination movement really thinking about these consequences? The threat from misinformation is not limited to HPV vaccines. Of anti-vaccine theories equally dangerous, which are most often disseminated through social media, make millions of children vulnerable to other diseases that are easily preventable by immunization. These theories risk negating the global benefits of Covid-19 vaccines when they are distributed.
The pandemic has shocked the whole world and is a source of great uncertainty and great anxiety. The development of vaccines against Covid-19 and rapid, fair and equitable access is the only way to end this crisis quickly. However, it cannot be stopped until misinformation persists and confidence in immunization is built. Achieving this will require factual and constructive information campaigns from trusted sources and the cooperation of social media platforms to ensure that their algorithms are not used to spread harsh rumors.
In addition to stopping the spread of disinformation, people need to be reminded that vaccine protection is their right. Historically, the better off had privileged access to vaccines, while the poorest had to wait several decades. Gavi’s founding, the Vaccine Alliance, in 2000, began to narrow this glaring gap. Today, rich and poor have, so to speak, equal access to life-saving vaccines.
In my homeland, India, anti-vaccine groups have thwarted the launch of essential vaccines in the national public immunization program for several years. Vaccines against hepatitis B,Haemophilus influenzæ type B, rotavirus and pneumonia were therefore only offered on private markets at sky-high prices that only the better-off could afford. Disadvantaged families, whose children died in large numbers from these diseases, could not afford the high costs of vaccines.
Anti-vaccine groups have filed a lawsuit to prevent us from launching our national vaccine program. On behalf of the health authorities, I argued that “the petitioners” were not against vaccines, but against vaccines for the poor. The court was of the same opinion. His decision paved the way for the administration of new vaccines and thus saved a large number of lives, especially among the most vulnerable.
This incident begs the question: who has the least to lose from these anti-vaccination rumors? In many cases, these rumors are spread by people privileged enough not to have to worry about whether the vaccine is given on time. These people probably live in areas where preventable diseases have been largely eradicated, and are, arguably, protected bycollective immunity due to the vaccination of a large part of the population. In the event that they fall ill, they have access to quality medical care.
In their thoughtless campaign of disinformation, anti-vaccine propagandists completely ignore the fate of those who have the most to lose if they do not get vaccinated: the poorest and most vulnerable. They risk dying or plunging into a financial pit if they or their families fall ill. For much of the world’s population, vaccination represents their only chance to be inoculated against poverty.
Translated from English by Pierre Castegnier
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