Is the world reaping the backlash of the COVID-19 anti-vaccination movement? It seems that way.
One of the unintended consequences of the so called “anti-vaxxers” cause, which is filled with hyperbole and conspiracies about the necessity and side-effects of vaccinations, has resulted in a rise is several diseases that have been, for the most part, eradicated from most of the world.
The propaganda that flourished during the pandemic, whipping up hysteria against what has been a long proven and effective way of protecting populations against several diseases, has worked.
All that is required to put an entire population at risk is for enough people to decide that they do not want to be vaccinated and the disease establishes itself.
Often mutations develop that evade vaccinations, as we have seen with the COVID-19 and the number of variants that continue to sicken and kill Barbadians.
Dr Joy St John, the Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and a former Assistant Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), has also raised alarm at the rise in diseases that most countries have been able to put down for many decades.
In a media interview, Dr St John described as “frightening” the emergence of cases of polio in the United States. This debilitating disease which leaves infected persons with a permanent paralysis of the legs, is finding its way back.
The highly esteemed Barbadian medical professional pointed the finger at the anti-vaccination movement, which has seeped into the psyche of many people. Many are now questioning not just COVID-19 vaccines but vaccinations on a whole.
Dr St John also attributed the rise in vaccine preventable diseases such as polio, to the conditions created by the pandemic. Countries redirected attention from the regular schedule of childhood vaccines, trying to vaccinate the entire population against COVID-19 which was killing hundreds of thousands of people.
ReliefWeb, a humanitarian information service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is also concerned about the increasing threats to global public health.
We have experienced for ourselves what happens when public health is under severe pressure and the instability is not limited to healthcare institutions. The threat spreads to the economy and to our very existence.
The only reason why Barbadians and visitors were able to enjoy the pleasure, excitement, and fun of the Crop Over Festival this year, is because enough of us took the decision to follow public health measures including vaccination.
The world’s governments work in a coordinated fashion to quell the COVID-19 pandemic because it destabilized international trade, threatened our ability to eat, travel, work, socialise, visit our families, and just simply enjoy life.
The OCHA has warned of declining vaccination coverage for infectious diseases like measles and diphtheria. The agency also revealed earlier this year that infection rates of diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever were all on the rise in several countries. This, the agency noted, was primarily due to vaccine hesitancy and resource shortages
In nearby Venezuela, the economic and political collapse have weakened that country’s health sector. OCHA says the situation was resulting in epidemics of measles and diphtheria which have spilled over into neighbouring countries. This situation also presents a threat to us in the Caribbean.
Vaccine preventable diseases should not be consuming our thoughts and fears in 2022, but they are. The pervasive range of opportunities to communicate in the 21st Century is also the conduit for misinformation which we must constantly rebuff.
The emergence of Monkeypox has forced our neighbour Trinidad and Tobago, to begin an early hunt for vaccines. This should alert us to the dangers on the horizon.
The numbers do not lie. Puerto Rico has 13 confirmed and 12 suspected cases. Cases have also been reported in the Dominican Republic where three are confirmed, one probable; Jamaica has two confirmed; The Bahamas has one confirmed, one suspected; Barbados has one confirmed; Bermuda has one confirmed case; and Martinique also has one confirmed case of monkeypox.
The concerns expressed by Dr St John and other medical professionals should not be ignored. There is too much at risk.
The interconnectedness of countries makes us vulnerable and as a highly dependent tourism-based economy, our vulnerability increases several fold. We, therefore, must be alert and decisive on our public health measures.