Currently in Samoa, a measles outbreak has affected over 1,000 people, hospitalized nearly 200 and claimed the lives of at least 16. The country with a populace of only about 200,000 has declared a state of emergency.
Many people who have been affected by this outbreak are those who have not been vaccinated. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the immunization rate has decreased to 30%, which is a sharp contrast from the immunization rate of 60% as of 2016.
Getting vaccinated is extremely important. However, many people have not been getting their vaccines due to something called “vaccine hesitancy,” which encompasses the variety of reasons why people do not get vaccinated. Some of these reasons include a lack of education regarding vaccines as well as misconceptions and a general distrust for vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy is also commonly called the “anti-vaxx” movement.
In Samoa, specifically, the vaccine hesitancy stems from the aftermath of a medical mistake, where nurses administered the vaccine mixed with an anesthetic, resulting in the deaths of two infants. After this, people were less likely to trust the vaccines as well as the people qualified to administer vaccines.
This reason for vaccine hesitancy is understandable; people are afraid that a medical mistake with a vaccine can kill them. However, it is arguably more dangerous to not be vaccinated at all, because the probability of a medical mistake is much lower than the probability that a person will contract measles.
It is essential that people get their vaccines. In the past few years, vaccine rates have been declining, especially in certain areas where vaccine hesitancy is becoming more prominent. This often leads to outbreaks of many preventable illnesses, including measles, which is very detrimental to the entire population.
Measles outbreaks especially are becoming more and more prevalent. Between 2000 and 2016, the measles rate worldwide decreased by approximately 80%. However, soon after, the rate began rising again, and part of that is because of vaccine hesitancy.
When people do not get vaccinated, it puts themselves and others at risk. There are certain populations of people who cannot receive vaccines, such as young children who are not old enough and other people who have weakened immune systems—due to their age, or because of an illness—who are more at risk for contracting diseases and dying as a result.
Vaccine hesitancy is common in the U.S. as well. Many people in the U.S. believe that vaccines cause autism, despite any data supporting this. Due to this belief, many people in the U.S. have not been vaccinated against a multitude of illnesses and are putting themselves and others at risk. This also contributes to measles outbreaks in the U.S. that have occurred in the past few years.
Vaccines do not have the negative effects that people are describing. Being vaccinated will only help people fight against diseases, and it will help communities as a whole because if more people are vaccinated, the spread of disease will decrease dramatically.
In Germany, in order to combat these declining vaccination rates and the growing number of measles outbreaks, government officials passed a law last week that will fine parents up to several thousands euros if they do not vaccinate their children. This law is set to take effect in March 2020.
Methods like this would be effective around the world. If more countries had stricter laws regarding vaccines, many of these outbreaks could potentially be prevented. These laws would help protect the population as a whole.
Countries around the world should consider creating strict legislation so that people are encouraged to get their vaccines. This type of legislation could potentially prevent future measles outbreaks altogether.
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Anika Veeraraghav is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.