Addressing the public health impact of vaccine hesitancy

Addressing the public health impact of vaccine hesitancy Addressing the public health impact of vaccine hesitancy

February 5, 20192 min read
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In recent news, vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs), specifically measles, are making a resurgence. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cases of measles have increased by 30%, and outbreaks of measles in Europe and the United States have prompted expansive dialogue on the threat of reappearing VPDs.


There is real danger with outbreaks of VPDs and as such it has prompted the WHO to name vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Vaccine hesitancy is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services.



Vaccine hesitancy is complex, and there are many reasons why someone may be resistant to vaccination. According to the WHO:


“The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex; a vaccines advisory group to WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are key reasons underlying hesitancy.”


The prevention of VPDs can require coverage rates as high as 90-95% to achieve herd immunity; at this rate, communities are protected from VPDs by the high number of vaccinated individuals. Sources such as UNICEF USA warn that without a concerted effort to combat vaccine hesitancy and improve vaccination rates universally, preventable diseases such as pertussis, diptheria and mumps may dip below rates required for herd immunity, increasing incidence of these, and other, diseases and threatening health at all ages. Contact Prof. Ross Andrews for information on the effect of VPDs in diverse populations. 


Connected to vaccine hesitancy is the threat of a global influenza pandemic, also identified by the WHO as a forthcoming concern. While many dismiss the serious and pervasive nature of influenza, the CDC asserts that as many as 646,000 people may die from influenza each year, with vaccine hesitancy and other barriers to information and access affecting uptake of influenza vaccination globally.


What remains clear is that without major changes to vaccination attitudes and uptake rates, new and emerging VPDs will put the health of global populations in jeopardy.  


Left as it is now, populations will continue to become reacquainted with diseases that were thought to have been eradicated, calling into question why vaccination, one of the most effective public health tools, is not being utilized effectively to preserve health and well-being. 


The International Federation on Ageing focuses on vaccination within the context of healthy ageing, including addressing barriers like vaccine hesitancy and working to increase access to vaccination information and services as a necessary tool for maintaining functional ability at all ages. For more information on vaccination and ageing, contact Dr Stefania Maggi, an expert in the impact of lifelong health promotion and disease prevention programs on healthy ageing. 


Connect with:
  • Dr. Stefania  Maggi
    Dr. Stefania Maggi Immediate Past President

    Dr. Maggi is a Geriatrician and Epidemiologist with expertise in both areas of Clinical Geriatrics and Epidemiology of Aging.

  • Prof. Ross Andrews
    Prof. Ross Andrews Chair

    Prof. Andrews specializes in vaccine-preventable diseases and skin infections.

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