Fear of vaccines or commonly referred as anti-vaxxers and the myths against them (vaccines) are not a new phenomenon. Opposition to vaccines goes as far back as the 18th century before now. When, for instance, a well-known Reverend Edmund Massey in England called the vaccines “diabolical operations” in his sermon, “The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation”. According to him, vaccines are an attempt to oppose God’s punishments upon man for his sins.
Similar religious opposition was also seen especially in the writings of Reverend John Williams in Massachusetts, who also cited similar reasons for his opposition to vaccines claiming that they were the devil’s work. However, opposition against vaccines was not only manifested in theological circle alone as many outside it also objected to them for political and legal reasons too.
After the passage of laws in Britain in the mid-19th century making it mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children, anti-vaxxers activists formed the Anti-Vaccination League in London. The league emphasized that its mission was to protect the liberties of the people which were being “invaded” by parliament and its compulsory vaccination laws. Eventually, the pressure exerted by the league and its supporters compelled the British parliament to pass an act in 1898, which removed penalties for not abiding by vaccination laws and allowed parents who did not believe vaccination was beneficial or safe to not have their children vaccinated. Since the rise and spread of the use of vaccines, opposition to vaccines has never completely gone away, vocalized intermittently in different parts of the world due to arguments based in theology, skepticism, and legal obstacles.
However, our society today has witnessed a great crescendo in the rise of anti-vaxxers sentiment surrounding beliefs that vaccines cause more harm than benefits to the health of the children who receive them. The premise of the anti-vaxxers movement can also be contributed to the demonization of vaccinations by news and entertainment outlets. Recently, voices such as Jenny McCarthy’s have proven to be influential, sweeping fear and distrust into parents’ minds by parading as “autism experts”. Also, social media and television talk show hosts, Oprah Winfrey, played a big role in this misconception by giving credence to the campaign too. This has caused vaccination rates to plummet in some Western countries.
The decrease in vaccinations across the globe has led to recent outbreaks of diseases that were thought to be eradicated before now, such as measles. Meanwhile, other reasons for the anti-vaxxers movement can be due to personal reasons. But one should bear in mind that a drop in immunisation poses a threat to the herd immunity the medical world has worked hard to achieve.