Vaccine hesitancy is not new – history tells us why?

Vaccine hesitancy is a story as old as vaccines themselves. Time after time, vaccines have proved their worth and toil invested in their development. Yet, getting vaccinated is a continuum between its absolute acceptance and outright refusal!

Did you know – In the 20th century, vaccines have aided the global population from ten historically fatal diseases that have helped in the eradication of infection by 92-100% (Emory University Report). Yet, convincing beneficiaries to take a jab is still challenging in 2021. 

To understand vaccine hesitancy, one must start with how they were perceived in its introductory phase. So let’s begin at the beginning! 

Concept of Vaccine hesitancy

World Health Organisation(WHO) refers to vaccine hesitancy as the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccination processes despite the availability of vaccine services. 

It is a complex concept that varies across geographies and vaccine types. The general reported reasons responsible for the conditions are confidence, convenience and complacency. All these factors hold significant weight since the first introduction of vaccination. 

The Lessons of History

Today the global vaccines market is estimated at around USD 46.88 billion. However, when Edward Jenner inoculated a 13 year-old-boy with cowpox virus and demonstrated immunity to smallpox, he was opposed massively. Marking the 1790’s as the beginning of the resistance to vaccines! 

For example: In India, a similar inoculation practice had also been documented from different parts of the country, especially in Bengal & Bombay presidencies. However, the lack of reliable records of patients inoculated with dead or attenuated microbes has caused more suspicion during the early days of vaccination. Lack of confidence in the vaccine’s safety & efficacy was responsible for decreased vaccine coverage and an increased risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks in the past. 

To elevate confidence in vaccines, we need to integrate apt care delivery systems that are reliable & competent with experienced work professionals. Also, the intentions of the policymakers are required to be conveyed efficiently. 

Back in the day, when governments imposed compulsory policies on their countrymen, very little was invested in designing vaccine delivery models (including availability, affordability, geographical accessibility, ability to understand information). This lack of convenience has caused limited vaccine uptake.

To resolve this issue, we need transparency into policy decision-making before immunization programs. This includes facilitating up-to-date information to the public and healthcare providers about the meticulous procedures undertaken before the introduction of new vaccines.

Another factor that had a huge impact while vaccinating the masses at the beginning was vaccine complacency. Several communities considered the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases as low. Moreso, in some rural areas vaccination is not even considered necessary. 

At this point, self-efficacy influences the degree to which a person weighs the risk of vaccination against the risk of getting infected. In order to walk such individuals out of vaccine hesitancy, an elaborative awareness strategy is required. Changing the pre-existing mindset is indeed difficult, but to resolve this challenge, a channelled system to educate as well as deliver the vaccines might do wonders! 

The Past is not Behind us!

In any community, beliefs are passed from generation to generation. Therefore, myths regarding vaccines are still deep-rooted, explicitly in the collective memory. The evidence that more than 50% of the world population “neither agree nor disagree” on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, is a concerning vaccine hesitancy rate, that requires immediate attention!

To counter vaccine hesitancy, program managers must initially adequately identify the target population and understand the true nature of their particular vaccine and/or vaccination concerns.

Today

Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective interventions for survival against dreaded pathogens worldwide. Today, India has universal immunization programmes (UIP) & national immunization programmes that are responsible to immunize the Indian population. However, future vaccination programs need to reflect and address the dynamic issues of the vaccine delivery systems. 

HArbor Says: Vaccines have always been a subject that is labelled with myths and conspiracies. However, establishing a strong healthcare delivery system can assist in the eradication of both the disease and the myths. What do you think? 

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