Anti-vaccine movement joins Ebola, drug resistance on list of top global threats

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A new list of top global health threats from the World Health Organization (WHO) reads like a “who’s who” of public health hazards: Pandemic flu. Ebola. Drug resistance.
But tucked in this list of much-talked-about threats is one perhaps-surprising inclusion: the anti-vaccine movement. The list, released this week, highlighted “10 of the many issues that will demand attention from WHO and health partners in 2019,” the organization said in a statement.
And the anti-vaccine movement, which the list refers to as “vaccine hesitancy,” made the cut.
Vaccines prevent 2 million to 3 million deaths a year globally. However, vaccine hesitancy — defined as delays in vaccination or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccination services — threatens to reverse progress being made against infectious diseases, the WHO said.
For example, measles — a vaccine-preventable disease — has seen a 30 percent rise in cases globally in recent years, and vaccine hesitancy may have played a role in that increase. In fact, some countries that were close to eliminating the measles have now seen a resurgence in cases, the WHO said.
The inclusion of vaccine hesitancy in the WHO’s list of global health threats puts a focus on the “danger of this movement,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.
If this list had been made 100 years ago, all of the top 10 health threats would have been infectious diseases, Adalja said.
But that’s not the case today, and that’s because of vaccines. “Vaccine hesitancy threatens to undo a lot of that progress,” Adalja told Live Science.
Adalja also noted that another health threat on the WHO’s 2019 list is “noncommunicable,” or noninfectious, diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
But in years past, “you wouldn’t even live to get many of these noncommunicable diseases,” Adalja said. “The fact that noncommunicable disease are included is a testament to how powerful vaccines are.”
Vaccine hesitancy is a complex problem to tackle, the WHO said. Indeed, the reasons for refusing vaccines can differ depending on the individual, Adalja said.
Some people question the safety of vaccines, even though numerous studies show that vaccines are safe and effective.

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