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PLOS BLOGS Speaking of Medicine and Health

“Vaccine Hesitancy”: The PLOS Currents Collection

Peter Hotez (@peterhotez), President of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development, announces the launch of PLOS Currents Outbreaks collection on Vaccine Hesitancy.

needle-vials_squared(Dawn Huczek, Flickr)
Image Credit: Dawn Huczek, Flickr

Measles was eliminated from the United States in 2000 – with elimination defined as “the absence of continuous disease transmission for 12 months or more in a specific geographic area”.  But in 2014 things began to unravel when the US experienced its largest number of measles cases since elimination was declared, and later at the beginning of 2015 when a measles outbreak began in Disneyland and subsequently spread to multiple states.  The primary cause of the California measles outbreak was parents who chose not to vaccinate their children because of unwarranted fears that vaccines were linked to autism, despite the fact that such connections have been disproven in the scientific literature.  As both a parent of a child who is severely disabled by autism and other mental disabilities and a vaccine researcher and head of a non-profit vaccine product development partnership, I like to also point out the absence of any scientific plausibility for connecting autism to vaccines  (Thoughts on World Autism Awareness Day).

Measles is not the only disease for which vaccines are now being withheld but it is among the most worrisome.  Prior to widespread global vaccine coverage measles was the single leading killer of children worldwide, however, by 2013 this number decreased to 82,100 children under the age of five died of measles (according  the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013).

My greatest concern is that if unwarranted fears about the measles vaccine start spreading to large middle-income or low-income countries such as the BRICS countries – especially Brazil and India – or other super populated nations such as Bangladesh,  Indonesia, Nigeria, or Pakistan we could start to see the world creep back to the devastating death rates of the past.

To address this issue of “vaccine hesitancy” PLOS Currents Outbreaks has launched an innovative collection on the topic.  Included in the series are important new papers that attempt to measure vaccine confidence, such as the creation of a global vaccine confidence index.  Efforts are also made to better define vaccine hesitancy and to specifically address the problem on a global scale.

I am troubled – the world looks to the United States as a trend setter in many different fields ranging from cinema to the sciences.  Vaccine hesitancy is a trend that should never be imitated.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this post stated: “But in 2014 things began to unravel when the US experienced its largest number of measles cases ever…” This has been corrected to: “… its largest number of measles cases since elimination was declared…”


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