Doctors say Covid vaccine skepticism is fueling broader anti-vaccine sentiment

A demonstration protesting the introduction of the Covid vaccine outside the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York on January 5, 2022.

Mike Segar | Reuters

Skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines could be fueling a “worrisome” rise in broader anti-vaccine sentiment, doctors say.

Professor Liam Smith, a physician and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told CNBC that he is concerned that vaccine hesitancy around Covid is “creeping” into other vaccines.

“I’m concerned that it makes people think, ‘Oh, well, maybe the measles vaccine isn’t very good either, and maybe these other vaccines aren’t very good,'” Smith said in a phone call. “And we don’t need to see a significant decline in measles vaccination coverage in the UK for measles outbreaks to occur.”

He noted that there were outbreaks of the disease when vaccination rates dropped in the UK in the 1990s and early 2000s.

According to the medical journal Lancet, in the late 1990s, claims that vaccines cause autism “turned tens of thousands of parents around the world against the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.” In 2010 the magazine retracted a 12-year-old article link between vaccines and autism studies have proven vaccines do not cause autism spectrum disorder.

“Jar full of wasps”

Smith from London said the measles vaccination rate would have to drop to just below 90% for the disease to become a problem.

Measles is a highly contagious, serious viral illness that can lead to complications such as pneumonia and inflammation of the brain. Before the widespread use of the measles vaccine, major epidemics broke out about every two to three years, and about 2.6 million people died from the disease every year, according to the WHO.

In the UK, 90.3% of two-year-olds were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella last year. A year earlier, 90.6% of children of the same age received the vaccine.

In 2019, 90% of U.S. children were vaccinated against measles by the age of two, according to the World Bank, down 2 percentage points from a year earlier. No more recent data are available for the US.

This fell from 98% to 83% in the US between 1988 and 1992 and remained below 90% for four years. In the UK, the measles vaccination rate for two-year-olds fell below 90% in the late 1990s and did not recover until 2011.

“Measles is like a jam jar full of wasps that want to get out,” Smith warned. “Once vaccine coverage drops, measles will reappear. [Covid anti-vax sentiment] and that dent in confidence seeps into other vaccines. It’s real anxiety.”

“Devastating” changes

LaSalle told CNBC that there are several factors that have contributed to the public’s loss of confidence in vaccines.

“Even before the pandemic, distrust of vaccines was growing and we were seeing the return of deadly diseases around the world,” she said.

“The rise of the Internet and social media as channels where people get news and information, and the spread of misinformation online have certainly exacerbated the problem.”

She added that because people in developed countries rarely witness the devastating effects of vaccine-preventable diseases, for some, the threat of disease does not seem real – and now they fear vaccination more than the disease itself.

Breakthrough cases

However, Vivek Cherian, an internal medicine physician in Chicago, told CNBC he didn’t notice how people’s views on non-COVID vaccines have changed throughout the pandemic, though he said he could understand why some people’s views on vaccines in general could be like that. corrupted.”

“If they got a Covid vaccine and maybe even had a booster and still got a breakthrough infection, their immediate response might be, ‘What’s the point if I got infected anyway? What’s the point of getting other vaccines?” – he said. said in an email.

“When this comes up, I tell my patients that while they may still have an infection, it could have been a lot worse if they [were unvaccinated] “And the data overwhelmingly suggests that your chances of hospitalization and death are significantly reduced with vaccinations and boosters.”

Cherian said it’s important to remember that this is not unique to Covid vaccines: no vaccine is 100% effective.

“Just think about the annual flu vaccine,” he said. “I myself got a flu shot a few years ago and still got the flu, but that will never (and should) keep me from getting my yearly flu shot.”

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