*EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally said WHO listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the Top 10 Global Threats of 2019 when in fact the WHO list is 10 Global Threats of 2019.
The World Health Organization has identified vaccine hesitancy as one of the 10 Global Threats of 2019.
The other nine issues identified by WHO are: air pollution and climate change, noncommunicable diseases, global influenza pandemic, fragile and vulnerable settings, antimicrobial resistance, Ebola and other high-threat pathogens, weak and primary health care, Dengue and HIV.
While the anti-vaccine movement is often tied to childhood vaccines, it can also impact adults’ decisions on immunizations.
“Mistrust, lack of confidence and misinformation — these are the core causes of this vaccine hesitancy,” said Shivali Sharma, pharmacist/owner of Shopper’s Drug Mart in Edmonton’s MacTaggart neighborhood.
“Data collected from a Shoppers Drug Mart survey recently found that one in 10 Canadian adults say that their trust in vaccinations has decreased due largely to media, celebrities and social media influencers that are really driving this movement forward.”
“It’s unfortunate because this movement is really based on unsubstantiated information that’s circulating through various media platforms, while we have science and decades of research being undermined.”
With vaccine hesitancy identified as a major concern globally and here in Canada, pharmacists like Sharma are eager to dispel some of the major myths concerning vaccines.
Myth 1: Vaccines make you sick
One major concern sometimes voiced is that vaccines can cause long-term, serious, adverse side effects, or even the disease itself.
“This is just absolutely not true. Vaccines cannot cause illness, nor can you contract the disease from the vaccine,” Sharma said. “Vaccines are actually very safe.”
Front-line pharmacists like Sharma often see the mild side effects that do occur when vaccines are administered. Most patients will experience some pain at the vaccine site, which shouldn’t persist long. In some cases, a low-grade fever can develop, but it can be treated with over-the-counter medication such as acetaminophen.
Another common misconception is that vaccines contain a live version of the virus they are treating for, when in most cases, they don’t.
“Those that do are severely weakened, just to the point that they trigger an immune response,” Sharma said. “It’s that immune response that’s actually protecting us by forming antibodies.”
“This sometimes also causes mild symptoms following a vaccination, but this is not to be mistaken for disease or illness itself there.
“The fact is that a child or adult is far more likely to be seriously burdened by the disease than by the vaccine itself.”
Myth 2: Vaccines are one and done
Sometimes, it’s not that a person is averse to vaccines; they’re just uninformed about the longevity of their childhood immunizations. But there is age-related decline in effectiveness in some vaccines, so it’s important to ask your doctor or pharmacist which vaccines require a booster dose to ensure they remain effective.
Sharma points to tetanus and diphtheria as examples of vaccines that require a booster over time.
“Most adults are unaware that the lifespan of these vaccines run around 10 years,” she said. “So it’s likely that most adults are not protected and require that booster dose.”
Myth 3: It’s all about me
One of the most pervasive myths about vaccines is that the decision to vaccinate only affects one person – the person making that decision. In reality, the decision to vaccinate has a direct effect on herd immunity. Herd immunity is the ability to protect the non-immunized minority of a population as long as the majority of that population is vaccinated.
“We’re really talking about protecting our most vulnerable population: infants, young children, the elderly, pregnant women, those who are immunocompromised,” Sharma said. “Their only hope of protection from the disease is that everyone around them is vaccinated.”
With vaccine hesitancy on the rise in Canada and around the world, Sharma explained that we’re opening the door to spreading viruses that haven’t been seen in generations.
“We’re talking about diseases that we had stopped hearing about for years that have been making a recent resurgence and have been able to spread thanks to the anti-vaccine movement.”
Ultimately, it is every individual’s choice whether or not to vaccinate themselves or their children. Sharma encourages you to turn to healthcare professionals for the most reliable information on how to protect yourself through immunization. It can be as easy as visiting your local pharmacy.
“We know from past research that almost a quarter of adults admit to putting off vaccinations simply because they feel it’s inconvenient…
“With pharmacists given the ability to immunize, it’s made a significant difference in immunization rates.”
Find out where you can keep up to date with immunizations through Alberta Health Services.