Pointless principle: The dangerous rise of the anti-vaxxer movement

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It’s hard to miss the growing number of ‘anti-vaxxers’ on social media and beyond. Vaccine controversies have been around for nearly 80 years, during which the safety and efficacy of vaccinations have been called into question. A notable example is the, now discredited claim – by British doctor and medical researcher, Andrew Wakefield – that MMR vaccines are a direct cause of autism and Crohn’s disease.

As recently as last month there was a measles outbreak in Edinburgh, with eight cases confirmed over the first two weeks of October. The University of Edinburgh has been named as the centre of the crisis and is urging students to make sure they are fully vaccinated against measles. According to NHS Lothian – in all recent cases – the individuals had not completed the full course of the measles vaccine.

The current immunisation schedule for the MMR vaccine is at one year of age, and a repeated dose at three years and four months. The MMR vaccine uptake dropped significantly across the UK in 1997, following Wakefield’s false claims. Meanwhile, vaccine uptake among two-year-olds declined to around 80% in 2003 and 2004. This compares to around 92%, in 1995; before the adverse publicity. The reduction in the uptake during that time could well have triggered the situation in Edinburgh, among many others.

The good news is that the uptake has been on the rise. Public Health England’s report on the COVER programme in England, for children under five, reports that the UK coverage of MMR continues to exceed the World Health Organisation’s target of 95%, increasing by 0.2%.

At present, however, the vaccinations in the UK are not compulsory, so parents are free to choose whether or not to immunise their children. There is the risk that the anti-vaccination movement could, therefore, continue to spread, and vaccination coverage could take another hit, with detrimental effects.

It is therefore of the utmost importance that healthcare professionals continue educating parents about continued uptake – and community pharmacy has a vital role to play in this. As experts in medicine, we need to inform our patients and customers about vaccinations and – above all – clarify common misconceptions.

Many community pharmacies, Superdrug included, now offer a range of private vaccinations covering flu, travel, sexual and occupational health. This gives us an even greater opportunity to emphasise the importance of immunisations and the consequences of not getting vaccinated.

Meanwhile, I hope that healthcare professionals can shout loud enough to drown out the chorus of anti-vaxxer rhetoric. 


Niamh is Clinical Development Manager at Superdrug. Please note, these are Niamh’s personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the Superdrug business.