Expounding upon their public health work at the Council on Foreign Relations, including a continually-updated global map of vaccine-preventable outbreaks, Laurie Garrett and Maxine builder connect anti-vaccine conspiracies both Western and international, and the apathy that tolerates them:
Today, vaccinators and healthcare workers providing lifesaving interventions are targeted for bombings and assassinations, and children in Pakistan are suffering. Our interactive map clearly demonstrates the correlation between an increase in Taliban propaganda and assaults on health workers and the resurgence of polio. Worse, recent outbreaks of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases in the Middle East have been linked to Pakistani-trained combatants who have carried pathogens to Syria and Iraq, along with their anti-immunization ideology.
And anti-vaccine sentiments aren’t limited to the developing world. The effects of Andrew Wakefield’s now thoroughly debunked 1998 Lancet study claiming links between vaccinations and autism are still being felt in the Western world, as can be seen in our interactive map. Outbreaks of pertussis in wealthy California communities, of mumps in Ohio college towns and of measles throughout the United Kingdom demonstrate the broad impact of the anti-vaccination movement.
In light of the paranoia evoked by Ebola, political and public health leaders must appreciate that not a single voice dispensing misinformation should go unchallenged. The general public has proved its inability to weigh facts accurately and reach a rational conclusion when fear clouds its judgment. Remarkably, in the case of the purported associations between autism and vaccines, the concept has gone viral in some of America’s most highly educated and wealthy communities, as has unscientific advice about delaying certain immunizations to avoid “vaccine overload.”
Too many political leaders around the world have either fanned the flames of fear or have shrugged off responsibility for dispelling them, assuming that countering conspiracies and false worries is a job for doctors and public health officers.