Anti-vaxxers fuel global measles spike
The rise of the anti-vaxxer movement is being blamed for an alarming resurgence in deadly measles outbreaks across world, prompting an urgent warning from the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the need for immediate action.
Figures, released by the WHO this month, found Europe experienced a record number of people impacted by measles in 2018, with experts blaming anti-vaxxer messaging as a main driver behind the spike.
"WHO urges European countries to target their interventions to those places and groups where immunisation gaps persist," the statement said.
Those "immunisation gaps" refer to areas in Europe where the anti-vaxxer movement could be most prevalent.
The report encouraged governments to "identify and address all pockets of under-immunisation among their populations".
According to the statement, measles killed 72 children and adults across Europe last year.
"The total number of people infected with the virus in 2018 was the highest this decade, and three times the total reported in 2017," the statement said.
Lead researcher Zsuzsanna Jakab said vaccination gaps at local levels "still offer an open door to the virus", referring to localised anti-vaxxer movements across the region.
"We cannot achieve healthier populations globally, if we do not work locally," Dr Jakab said.
"We must do more and do it better to protect each and every person from diseases that can be easily avoided."
Deadly measles outbreaks are surfacing in other parts of the world as well, with scientists partially attributing the spike to the rise of anti-vaxxer groups.
In Australia, the ACT recorded its third case of measles in the first two months of 2019.
TheCanberra Times reported an infected Canberra resident, who contracted the disease on an overseas trip, travelled through Canberra airport on Sunday, February, 3, between 10am and 11am.
The NSW government has also issued its ninth health alert for measles in 2019 alone.
It comes after a man, travelling through Sydney's international airport, tested positive for the highly contagious disease.
The Courier-Mail reported that Queensland teenagers are secretly getting immunised, despite their anti-vaxxer parent's wishes, in order to protect themselves from deadly diseases.
Queensland legislation allows children over the age of 15 to immunise themselves.
Doctors are calling this group of vaccine savvy teens "Generation V".
The Philippines was hit by a deadly measles outbreak last month, with at least 25 people killed, according to officials.
Tragically, the majority of those killed by the disease were children, with authorities expecting the toll to rise.
Figures by the national health authorities found the number of measles cases spiked from 791 in 2017, to more than 5000 last year.
In January alone, there were more than 1800 cases.
Filipino Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo told media last week that vaccination rates among the population had been declining over the last five years.
"In the recent years, it was the issue of Dengvaxia vaccine that contributed," he said, referring to a recent public immunisation campaign that led to public panic after the vaccine manufacturer revealed its product could lead to some severe side effects.
Residents of Washington are currently experiencing the state's worst measles outbreak in more than 20 years.
According to The Washington Post, at least 56 people across Washington and Oregon have contracted the deadly disease in the last month.
Health authorities have declared a public health emergency, with experts predicting the outbreak could still be in its infancy.
Seattle Children's Hospital paediatrician Douglas J. Opel told The Washington Post the "alarming" outbreak, which impacted many young children, highlighted just how powerful the anti-vaxxer movement was in the US.
"Any time we have an outbreak of a disease that we have a safe and effective vaccine against, it should raise a red flag," he said.
Despite the state facing this crisis, large anti-vaxxer groups have gathered outside the White House to oppose a bill that "would make it harder for families to opt out of vaccination requirements for measles, mumps and rubella".
The anti-vaxxer movement has become so aggressively prolific across the world in recent years, including large areas of Australia, that the WHO has released information packs, to members of the public and health professionals, on "how to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public".
The information packs define terms such as vaccine refusers, vaccine sceptics or members of an anti-vaccine movement and seek to explain how these groups work to change collective thought.
"A vaccine denier ignores any quantity of evidence provided and criticises the scientific approach as a whole," the WHO packs claim.
"In fact, vaccine deniers may even counter-react to persuasive arguments."
According to the WHO, vaccine deniers will often skew rational science, censor or shut down critics to avoid open discussions and attack scientists.
The packs claim that associating the word "movement" with anti-vaxxers is misleading as it suggests that the group of immunisation deniers are "a powerful, co-ordinated group, united by a shared collective identity".
"However, in most … countries, vaccine refusers represent a small proportion of individuals with diverse reasons for not accepting vaccines," the organisation said.
"These few deniers certainly do not represent a movement".