According to the study researchers explaining that the measles outbreaks; and political crises go hand in hand. There is a significant association between the rise of populism across Europe and the level of mistrust around vaccines. It is a coincidence that the news broke the day after Boris Johnson provoked widespread outrage by proroguing parliament. But the increasing prevalence of measles in the UK and further afield must be understood in the broader context of rising populist sentiment and drawn-out political crises.
Measles is a highly infectious and potentially deadly disease, but it can be preventing with a cheap and easily administering vaccine. If over 90-95% of a community is vaccinating, “herd immunity” is achieving and outbreaks are unlikely to occur. When the measles vaccine was introduced in 1963, the disease killed about 2.6m people a year. The number of measles cases has steadily declined since then, and it is estimated that the vaccine has saved over 21m lives since the turn of the century.
The measles outbreak
The analysis found a highly significant positive association between the percentage of people in a country who voted for populist parties and the percentage who believe that vaccines are not important and not effective. Vaccines are widely agrying to be one of the great achievements of the scientific age. A survey of eminent historians by The Atlantic put vaccines as number eight in a list of the “greatest breakthroughs since the wheel”. And an article by the US librarian of Congress published in National Geographic placed vaccines fifth out of “ten inventions that changed the world”.
MMR vaccination rates in the UK fell from 92 per cent in 1995 to a low of 79% in 2003; well below the 95% rate needing to achieve herd immunity. There is additional anecdotal evidence suggesting a connection between the rise of populist politicians and political movements in Western Europe and increasing levels of vaccine hesitancy. But in the last few years, the remarkable progress made by vaccines has gone into reverse, particularly in the West. In Europe, there were about 5,000 cases of measles in 2016, 24,000 in 2017 and 84,000 in 2018.
According to recent WHO data, there have already been 90,000 measles cases in the first six months of this year. And the US is experiencing its biggest measles outbreak for 27 years. Measles outbreaks are a consequence of falling vaccine coverage, which appears to result from increasingly widespread anxieties about vaccine safety. These fears go back at least to the 18th century; when efforts to inoculate people against smallpox in Boston, US, were met with fierce resistance.
Contemporary concerns about vaccine safety, however, are usually tracing to debunking claims; that there is a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. A survey of 2,600 parents published in January by the Royal Society for Public Health shows; that 21% of parents in the UK think MMR causes unwanted side effects; and almost 10% of parents chose not to give their child the MMR vaccine; mainly because of fears about side effects.