“Anti-vaxxer” refers to people who disagree with the use of vaccines for a variety of reasons. For example, some view vaccines as an infringement on their human rights.

Vaccines are one of the safest and most effective health interventions for infectious diseases. They have had a staggering impact on reducing the burden of infectious cases worldwide.

However, a minority of people oppose their use, and some actively spread misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

This article discusses the anti-vaxxer movement, how it is dangerous, and why vaccines are important.

Anti-vaxxers protesting in the USA.Share on Pinterest
Image credit: Scott Eisen/Stringer/Getty Images

Anti-vaxxers are people who believe that vaccines are unsafe and infringe on their human rights. They typically deny the existence or validity of the science supporting their use in the general population.

The popularity of these opinions is hard to measure. However, only a small number of people in the United States are likely to express these views.

For example, 91.5% of children in the U.S. receive the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination.

The anti-vaxxer movement began in the 18th century in the U.S., with religious leaders describing them as the “devil’s work.” The campaign grew in the 19th and 20th centuries as a matter of human rights.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a former medical doctor, suggested a possible link between the MMR vaccination and autism in children. The Lancet, a respected scientific journal, initially published his research.

However, The Lancet withdrew his article in 2004 after an investigation found major flaws in his study.

Mr. Wakefield failed to declare several conflicts of interest, including involvement in a lawsuit for claiming links between MMR and autism.

A British Medical Journal investigation later found Mr. Wakefield guilty of deliberate fraud, as a ruling deemed that he and his research team had picked and chose data that suited their case, while falsifying facts in their studies.

The United Kingdom’s General Medical Council revoked Mr. Wakefield’s medical license, declaring that he abused a position of trust and acted unethically to provoke a dishonest and callous controversy.

Despite this, the scandal led to a drop in MMR vaccinations that remains today. There is still no scientific study showing a link between MMR and autism.

A systematic review of the topic in 2020 included more than 23 million children from 138 studies. The team found that MMR vaccinations prevented infections in children and did not increase the risk of autism or encephalitis.

Anti-vaxxers still represent a minority of people. However, there are many active communities on the internet and social media platforms.

According to a recent report in The Lancet Digital Health, around 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. It also estimates that social media outlets could be making about $1 billion from advertising every year.

Facebook and other social media platforms regularly receive criticism for the extent of misinformation spreading within these communities.

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlight six common misconceptions about vaccines:

  • Diseases were already declining before the invention of vaccines due to improvements in hygiene and sanitation.
  • Most people who get diseases are already vaccinated.
  • Some batches of vaccines are safer than others.
  • Vaccines cause many harmful side effects and illnesses.
  • The diseases that vaccines prevent are no longer prevalent, so there is no need for vaccines.
  • Giving children multiple vaccines at once increases the risk of harmful side effects.

The WHO have outlined comprehensive responses to each of these misconceptions, providing evidence to the contrary.

Vaccines are among the most important advances in medicine. Only the provision of clean water has been more effective in reducing the burden of infections worldwide.

Before the invention of vaccines, many infectious diseases were widespread, had a significant impact on well-being, and regularly led to death.

For example, polio is a highly infectious disease that damages the nervous system, which can lead to paralysis and death.

In the early 1950s, there were around 16,000 annual cases of polio in the U.S., with more than 1,800 deaths. Following widespread vaccinations beginning in 1955, incidences of the disease fell sharply to fewer than 1,000 cases in 1962. The last documented case in the country occurred in 1979.

In the early 1900s, there were around 500,000 cases of measles, with 400 deaths, and 150,000 cases of mumps each year. Today, there are almost no deaths from these diseases in the U.S.

The mumps vaccine was initially developed not to prevent death, but to minimize complications from the infection, such as orchitis, which can lead to infertility in male children, and deafness.

Similarly, the measles vaccine helps lower mortality. It also prevents complications from the infection, such as deafness, intellectual disability, and a rare but fatal neurological disease that can develop later in life.

Vaccines are now one of the safest health interventions, saving millions of lives each year. They are safer than many other common medications or healthcare procedures.

According to the Department of Health & Human Services, there are five reasons to vaccinate a child:

  • vaccines save lives from diseases that can otherwise cause injury or death
  • they are safe and effective
  • immunization protects others, including family members or friends
  • some schools or childcare facilities require vaccinations for admission
  • they protect future generations from diseases

Anti-vaxxer movements can influence people’s decision to vaccinate themselves or their children.

This risks not only their health and well-being, but also the health and well-being of others. For example, they could pass a disease to other children who are unable to receive vaccines due to allergies, age, or medical conditions.

Anti-vaxxers are people who believe vaccines are unsafe and infringe on their human rights. People hold these views for a variety of reasons, which may originate from misinformation on social media sites.

Vaccines are one of the safest and most effective health interventions available for fighting infectious diseases. They have been fundamental in the eradication and control of many formerly devastating illnesses, such as polio.