Vaccination is widely regarded as one of the most successful achievements of medicine and public health. It has helped to drastically reduce the threat of the most devastating childhood diseases, such as measles, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, as well as Haemophilus influenzae and rotavirus infections. Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been declared eradicated from the world in 1980 and polio is on the brink of being eradicated as well. According to the WHO, vaccination prevents an estimated 2.5 million deaths each year—in other words, it saves five lives every minute.
“When there is a serious infection, people look to vaccines as the answer because prevention is always better than treatment. With Ebola or Zika, everyone was very eager to have a vaccine”, said Kathryn Edwards, Director of Vanderbilt University's Vaccine Research Program, who also serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious disease. But once vaccines are available and successful, they become victims of their own success. Many vaccine preventable childhood diseases have lost their threat, at least in the developed world. “Young doctors and parents don't fear these diseases like we used to do. The better our vaccines are, the more difficult it is for parents to appreciate their importance”, Edwards said.
A persistent problem
Many people instead focus their attention on adverse reactions, perceived or real. Although only few people are radically opposed to vaccines per se, anti‐vaccine groups are very vocal and they have an impact on people's perceptions. A much larger group is “hesitant”: somewhere between complete acceptance and complete rejection and vulnerable to the propaganda put forth by anti‐vaccine groups. In a recent study, 13.5% of the respondents from the USA stated that they disagree that vaccines are safe—and the situation is worse in Europe, where the number gets as high as 41% in France …