Vaccines: a divisive debate

The anti-vaccine movement
Vaccines help humanity survive
February 17, 2021
Christy Balatsiou

The new Covid-19 vaccine is out and is currently administered to the elderly and vulnerable groups first, in many parts of the world.  


After a year of lockdowns, self-isolation, social distancing and masks, the vaccine that will return people’s lives back to normal is finally here.  


However, there are people around the world who doubt the value and quality of any vaccine, who are known as anti-vaxxers. 


Which leads us to think about... 

What are the two sides to this divisive vaccine debate? 

How did the vaccine start?

Immunisation for smallpox started in China as early as the 16th century. After the method of grounding smallpox scabs and smearing on a skin tear reached Europe in 1796, Edward Jenner also attempted his version of immunisation. 


By observing that dairy farmers did not get infected by smallpox, he hypothesised that people who have previously been infected with cowpox were immune to smallpox. Immunisation against smallpox by using cowpox material was then used to protect individuals. 


In 1885, Louis Pasteur also assisted in the development of vaccines. His vaccines against rabies set the tone for more research on vaccination, such as vaccines for whooping cough (1914), tetanus (1938), measles (1963) and polio (1955). 


Vaccines have been proven to be essential. 

Essential for global health, herd immunity, reduced mortality rate and social injustice. 


Vaccines improve global health by preventing serious diseases from spreading. Vaccination preserves global health by eradicating diseases, such as smallpox, and generally controlling highly infectious diseases, such as COVID-19.  


Vaccination also reduces mortality rates by maintaining high global health standards. 


Herd immunity is another protective measure, mostly achieved by mass vaccinations. When most of the population is immune to an infectious disease – either by vaccinating or by producing antibodies after infection – it is harder for the disease to survive and spread further. With herd immunity you not only protect yourself by vaccinating, but also your community.  


Lastly, vaccines reduce societal inequality. How


By empowering women as child mortality is low and women choose to have less children.


By promoting economic growth as poor health is no longer a reason that stunts social and economic development. 


By enhancing racial and socioeconomic equality as vaccines are more accessible than before. 


How does a vaccine work?  

When a harmful bacterium or virus – a pathogen – enters the body for the first time, the body recognises it as a dangerous outsider. Subsequently, the body shows symptoms of infection such as a fever or a sore throat. 


This is when it also starts producing antibodies to fight against and to remember the pathogen, in case it invades the body in the future.  


For most types of vaccines, the person getting the jab will get infected with a weakened or dead form of a pathogen. The body then safely creates antibodies without showing symptoms, in order to recognise and quickly attack the pathogen in the case of future infection.


Thus, vaccines build immunity in the body in a safe way.

On the other hand, there’s the anti-vaccine movement. They do not believe in the importance of the vaccine, claiming that it’s neither natural nor safe, and compulsory vaccination is against human rights.  


Vaccine hesitancy has been named by the WHO as a threat to global health in 2019. According to WHO, reasons for vaccine hesitancy are ‘complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence’. 


In other words, 

People forget that vaccines create herd immunity and a protective bubble. Instead, they are complacent and believe that they are safe without a vaccine in a community where people are vaccinated. However, herd immunity ceases to exist as vaccination rates drop. 


It is also true that there might be an inconvenience in accessing vaccines. Inconvenience in regards to availability, affordability, willingness to go or ability to understand. 


Lastly, lack of confidence is a major concern when it comes to vaccination; many parents nowadays do not trust vaccines.  


Why don’t they trust vaccines?

There is this misconception circulating by the anti-vaccination movement that vaccines cause autism.  


This misconception started in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield. He published a report – which has been retracted ever since proven inaccurate – claiming that the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella causes autism in young children. However, many studies afterwards have proven Wakefield’s study inaccurate.


Thus, there is no proven correlation between vaccines and autism.


Rise in autism cases, that scares parents from vaccinating their children, could also be due to a rise in diagnosing children correctly with autism. Between 2000 and 2010, the rise in autism cases is due to reclassification, as a study by Penn State University found.  


Are there any dangers to vaccines?  

Just as with any medicine and medicinal practice, there are risks and side effects that cause vaccine hesitancy. 


Mild side effects after vaccination such as fever, swelling in the injection area, or soreness afterwards are a discouraging vaccination factor. Serious side effects are extremely rare. 


Additionally, vaccines are generally dangerous to people who are immunocompromised and have a weakened immune system due to conditions such as HIV or rheumatoid arthritis. 


In relation to COVID-19, it is true that the vaccine has been approved way more quickly than any other vaccine in history. While it normally takes more than 10 years to develop vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccine has only taken less than a year. It is therefore reasonable for people to question its effectiveness and safety.  

However, the rapid development of the Covid vaccine has been successful due to more volunteers to test, more funding, and newer technology. There were also previous researches on coronaviruses, helping scientists have a starting point in their research as COVID-19 is similar to SARS and MERS.

When times are hectic and there is a lot of fear stemming from the media scaremongering the readers, it is understandable why people are confused and anxious about what is true and what is not in regards to vaccines. 


People live in a constant state of crisis at the moment, and listening to both sides of the debate can exacerbate their anxiety on vaccines. However, each argument has its own strengths and weaknesses.  


A question for you:

Have you ever doubted the vaccine?

For more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, please visit this website.

Disclaimer: We are by no means supporting one side of the argument over the other. We collate different views and expand on them to give you a better understanding of the motivation behind these views.
Photo credit: from Pexels
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