By Vaagisha Das:
Although India is a leading producer and exporter of vaccines, the country is home to one-third of the world’s unimmunised children. However, this is apparently no cause for worry, as believed by some parents in the U.S., since “God gave everyone the ability to heal from within and he gave us all the tools to heal naturally.” Contrasting the state of infant vaccinations in the U.S. with that of India seems almost ridiculous, yet with the growing number of anti-vaccination activists in America, the outcome remains surprisingly similar- gradual increase in the number of unimmunised children, causing widespread diseases, disabilities, and even death. While most American parents are wary of getting their children vaccinated due to an unfounded fear of vaccines causing autism, parents in India are unable to do so simply because they do not have the resources or the knowledge to comprehend why vaccination is needed. Hence, both the cases are based on uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and little is being done to dispel them of preconceived notions.
The Anti Vaccination Movement (AVM) in America is two pronged- one prong denies any direct correlation between vaccines and the diseases that they are taken as protection against diseases, while the other goes one step further and into the territory of vaccines being harmful for health. Supporters of the latter belief claim that the MMR (mumps-measles-rubella) vaccine causes autism, despite there being no evidence for the same. The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a list of more than 40 studies showing no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism, yet parents continue to protest against vaccines. The movement has further been popularised by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, who claimed to discover that her son ‘became’ autistic as a result of his shots- even though autism is a congenital disease.
When California sought to tighten its immunisation laws after a measles outbreak- a disease thought to be eradicated fifteen years ago- it faced angry protests from vocal activists, who went so far as to claim that the new law that made vaccination mandatory was akin to the Holocaust. This was based on the pro-choice argument of individuals being able to decide what ‘goes into their body’. Little did these activists keep in mind that unvaccinated kids would be endangering those who were too young, or others who were unable to get vaccinated due to medical conditions. Although the idea of stopping vaccination in its entirety seems far-fetched, these activists have been successful enough to force three states to pull back a ‘personal belief’ exemption for vaccination.
In India, vaccines are similarly available yet unable to be accessed by those who need them the most. However, this is not a matter of choice. Fewer than 44 percent of India’s young children receive the full schedule of immunisations. This is mainly due to ignorance and hence decreased demand, as well as the much popularised polio shots having stolen the spotlight- consequently side lining other vaccines available. For example, pneumonia is the leading killer of children in India, accounting for the death of a majority of children under five years of age. Vaccines for pneumonia, although available elsewhere, and not sold in India- attributing it to the low demand for these. In India’s slums, surveillance as well as keeping tabs on diseases is an arduous task. In many instances, people are unable to discuss or even identify the symptoms- thereby proving time and again the dangers of obliviousness.
Pneumonia accounted for 371,605 deaths in children under age five in 2008, India. According to recent estimates, the 81,275 annual deaths from measles in India account for three-quarters of the global deaths from this disease. It is estimated that two-thirds of the children who die of measles and the other preventable childhood diseases would have survived if they had been immunised. In America, non-vaccination brought an almost eradicated disease back. The limbs of a boy were amputated in order to save him for meningitis – which could’ve been prevented if he had been vaccinated. In such a case, the course of action open to us is simple: in order for this to stop, more of us must speak up until there’s no doubt remaining that vaccines are safe, necessary, and they work.