Vaccine hesitancy or the refusal to vaccinate despite availability of vaccines has been listed by the World Health Organisation as one of the 10 threats to global health this year.
Vaccination currently prevents 2-3 million deaths a year and is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease. A further 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved, according to WHO.
Despite the figures and the dangers involved in refusing vaccinations, many are still refusing to vaccinate their children – causing outbreaks in diseases like measles in the US.
Doctors in the UAE have warned that a growing "anti-vaccination" movement is gaining traction in the Emirates, as new research suggested as many as one in ten parents are against inoculating their children.
A British mother-of-one in Abu Dhabi is choosing not to vaccinate her daughter against curable diseases, claiming she is unconvinced by science.
Jane, who did not want to reveal her full name for fear of backlash in response to her controversial views, called into question the positive results of vaccination programmes, saying she had done her own research.
“I know a lot about it. I have done a lot of research. I have spent a lot of time on it and still continue to do so most days.”
She said she does not consider herself an “anti-vaxxer” rather “vaccine educated” and, as a result of her online research, her two-year-old daughter is unvaccinated.
Children in the UAE must have the following mandatory vaccines: polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella. Hospitals will immediately vaccinate newborns unless parents sign a document denying medical advice.
Children need an official document from the local health authority to prove they have had those vaccines when enrolling in education, though some medics said it is not clear how many schools reject applicants that don’t.
Despite the near eradication of certain diseases due to vaccinations, Jane says the topic is “extremely contentious” and becoming worse every day.
“The HPV vaccine is probably the most contentious of all of the vaccines. However, when you start learning about them you realise what a mess it all is,” she said.
“But the HPV vaccine is probably the most serious issue and is being pushed like wildfire here, like all vaccines are.”
She referred to an article on Mercola.com, a self-purported natural health website run by an American alternative medicine physician who also markets dietary supplements on the site, which lists a series of concerns about the Gardasil vaccine, one of several licensed against HPV.
The article highlights, among other claims, the HPV vaccine’s effectiveness was both “overstated” and “unproven” and claims the 70 per cent reduction of cervical cancers the manufacturers said would follow as a result was wrong.
“The clinical trials data have not demonstrated to date that the vaccines have actually prevented a single case of cervical cancer (let alone cervical cancer death),” reads the article, quoting from a review from 2012.
However, science shows precisely the opposite occurred in the years since the vaccination programme was introduced — with a notable decline in the number of cervical cancer cases.
According to a study in the journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, released in January, HPV vaccinations have prevented the most dangerous strains of the virus, which cause the most cases of cervical cancer. There has also been a "significant" decline in cases of CIN 2, precancerous cervical cells which can go on to develop into cancer.
The authors believe herd protection — a central tenet behind vaccination programmes, where those too young, weak or sick to receive the shot are protected by the immunity of others who have been vaccinated — is to thank for the reduction.