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The Resurgence of Measles in the UK: Unravelling the Impact of Anti-Vax Movement

The Resurgence of Measles in the UK: Unravelling the Impact of Anti-Vax Movement

22 January 2024

Connor Banks

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In a concerning turn of events, the UK Health Security Agency has issued a warning about the rapid spread of measles, emphasising the urgent need for increased vaccination efforts. Once on the verge of eradication, measles is making a comeback, raising questions about why a disease that was almost eliminated has resurfaced.

Woman stopping a child from being Vaccinated.

The Success of the Past: MMR Vaccination Campaign

The decline of measles in the late 80s and 90s can be attributed to the success of the mass vaccination campaign featuring the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine. During this period, a significant drop in cases occurred as 95% of the population received the vaccine. However, recent data indicates a concerning decline in vaccination rates, with only 85% of UK children having received two doses of the MMR vaccine by 2022-2023 – the lowest level since 2011.

The Anti-Vax Movement and its Impact

The decline in vaccination rates is not a result of a lack of availability or awareness but is closely tied to the growing momentum of the anti-vaccination movement. With the surge in conspiracy theories and misinformation circulating on social media, scepticism towards basic scientific principles has taken root.

Anti-Vax protest in London 2022

The Impact of Andrew Wakefield's Infamous Paper

Picture of Andrew Wakefield

One pivotal moment in the anti-vax movement's history involves Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced former doctor turned anti-vaccine activist. In 1998, Wakefield published a fraudulent paper linking the MMR vaccine to bowel symptoms and autism in children, which was later found by the General Medical Council to be "dishonest." In 2010, The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, fully retracted the paper. Despite the absence of scientific evidence supporting a link between vaccines and autism, the damage had been done.

Media Influence and Ongoing Misconceptions

Wakefield's fraudulent paper received widespread media attention, with national TV interviews amplifying his claims about vaccines causing autism in children. This fueled the anti-vaccine movement, leading to enduring misconceptions. Today, some individuals still assert a connection between vaccines and autism, despite the overwhelming lack of scientific support.

The Role of Social Media

Social media has played a crucial role in the dissemination of misinformation, allowing unfounded claims to reach a broader audience. The ease with which information spreads on platforms like Facebook contributes to the perpetuation of baseless fears surrounding vaccines.

The resurgence of measles in the UK serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of vaccine hesitancy. While the MMR vaccine was once a beacon of success in disease prevention, the rise of the anti-vax movement has jeopardised its impact. It is imperative for public health officials to address misinformation, rebuild trust in vaccines, and promote widespread immunisation to protect future generations from preventable diseases.

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