In an annual list of the top 10 threats to global health, a growing lack of vaccinations is featured alongside other threats to global health like ebola and climate change.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which is funded and supported by the United Nations, released its 2019 list of top threats to global health this week. While air pollution/climate change and the global influenza pandemic topped the list, what the WHO calls “vaccine hesitancy” also made the top 10.
“Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year, and a further 1.5 million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved,” the WHO wrote. “The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex; a vaccines advisory group to WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are key reasons underlying hesitancy.”
“Health workers, especially those in communities, remain the most trusted advisor and influencer of vaccination decisions, and they must be supported to provide trusted, credible information on vaccines,” the WHO continued.
In the United States, there is a growing movement spurred on by celebrities like Robert De Niro and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., spreading fear about how vaccinations may be tied to the development of autism. As Vox reported in 2017, De Niro — whose son is autistic — once tried to screen a documentary propagated the debunked theory that vaccinations for children to prevent disease are linked to autism.
Last year, the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded, greenlit the screening of Vaxxed, an anti-vaccine film by the discredited physician-researcher Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield authored a retracted paper claiming the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine increases the risk of autism. The blowback from the scientific community was so fierce, De Niro withdrew the film from the festival — a move that was referred to as “censorship” at the event today.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote, there is no proven link between vaccinations and Autism Spectrum Disease (ASD). In its debunking of that theory, the CDC cited a 2013 study that found the human body reacted the same to vaccines when comparing children who had developed autism to children without autism. This shows that the development of autism is unrelated to whether or not a child was vaccinated.
“The study looked at the number of antigens (substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies) from vaccines during the first two years of life. The results showed that the total amount of antigen from vaccines received was the same between children with ASD and those that did not have ASD,” the CDC wrote, adding that there was also no connection between ingredients in vaccinations and ASD.
As the WHO wrote in its list of threats to global health, the drop in vaccinations has already had severe effects on the general public. Measles is on the rise, marking a 30 percent year-over-year increase in the number of cases between 2016 and 2017, when there were nearly seven million confirmed cases of the disease. In August of 2018, HCA Healthcare reported that there were approximately 150 confirmed cases of measles in the U.S. in 22 states. That number could be higher today, as measles is highly communicable.
In 2019, the organization is vowing to defeat cervical cancer by encouraging the HPV vaccine in young adults. The WHO is also making efforts to eradicate poliovirus in Afghanistan and Pakistan by vaccinating every new child.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.