There has been a disturbing new trend among parents globally, especially in the United States, called the anti-vaxxer trend. Some parents all over the world have decided against vaccinating their children because they believe vaccinations do more harm than good. As a result, there has been an outbreak of preventable diseases such as polio and measles. This has led to the World Health Organisation listing resistance to vaccination as one of the top ten global health risks.

Vaccinating your children may seem like a no brainer to most of us but there are a few reasons why there has been an increase in the resistance in vaccination, however, the biggest factor has been health communication. As the years progress more and more people rely on the internet for information and not all the information available is reliable. Quite a lot of this information is harmful and often people believe this information instead of what scientists and other qualified health professionals have to say. Effective communication strategies will be crucial if scientists want to counter the worrying trend of increases in vaccine hesitancy.

Anybody, including activists with specific agendas, can produce and share information online. This is heightened on social media, where people are connected in real-time on a global scale and thus false information goes viral instantly. By the time this information is debunked by facts, it often too late.

The WHO said: “Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective ways of avoiding disease – it prevents 2 to 3million deaths a year and a further 1.5million could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improved. Measles, for example, has seen a 30% increase in cases globally. The reasons for this increase are complex and not all these cases are due to vaccine hesitancy. However, some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence.”

South Africa has 12 routine vaccines in its public immunization schedule. Two of these vaccines, introduced for children in 2009, save about 5000 lives locally every year. We were the first in Africa to introduce these immunizations – one to protect against diarrhoeal diseases and the other for pneumonia prevention. Since these immunizations, dedicated hospital wards for childhood diarrhoea have all but vanished in South Africa. If South Africa is complacent on vaccines, we are in danger of facing the same trajectory of measles outbreaks seen in the United States.

South Africa may not have as big of an anti-vaxxers problem as the United States however there is a significant number of social media pages targeted at South Africans that have surfaced. As a country that is riddled with fake news, we are at risk of ordinary South Africans falling prey to this misinformation and the worsening of the measles outbreaks that have already taken place as a result of not vaccinating.  It is strongly advised that parents do not fall for fake news that could endanger their children’s health. By not vaccinating your child you not only put them in danger, but they may infect other children resulting in outbreaks.