Whether it’s due to violent threats or just plain ignorance, areas with low vaccination rates show a startling resurgence in harmful diseases
You would think governments and individuals would make vaccinating citizens against harmful diseases a high priority. But this video, based off a map created by the Council on Foreign Relations, shows that this isn’t always the case—and as a result, whooping cough, measles, and polio have returned in epidemic proportions in some areas.
Why do people shun vaccines for life-threatening diseases? The reasons are heartbreaking and confounding.
In Pakistan, polio vaccination workers have been attacked and killed by members of the Taliban, who distrust the Western countries involved in providing the vaccine—leaving large numbers of people unvaccinated. Consequently, this year Pakistan reported 202 polio cases so far.
Meanwhile, in middle-class communities across the U.S., most notably California, parents who believe vaccines are unsafe are refusing to get their babies and toddlers vaccinated against whooping cough, measles, and mumps. For instance, in 2010, there were 12,000 cases of whooping cough reported worldwide, with 5,000 in California alone. According to a report released by the California Department of Public Health this fall, that number had risen to nearly 8,000 cases for the year.
A confluence of the same fears held by some American parents, religious objections, and weak medical infrastructures has also hampered vaccination efforts and contributed to a measles outbreak that swept South Africa and Central Africa between 2009 and 2013. The disease is highly contagious and can prove fatal to young children.
Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and the map’s creator, has tracked epidemic outbreaks of preventable diseases from 2008 with data from news and public health reports. Her map is a global picture of people who are at risk, and also where education about the value of vaccinations is sorely needed.
Garrett has written that ignorance about the importance of vaccines is deadly, and many doctors concur.
“I see the devastating effects of these infections which are vaccine-preventable,” says Dr. Jeffrey Bender, medical director in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“The most frustrating part for me is in talking to these families after their child becomes severely ill,” he says. “I have to tell them that ‘yes your child’s illness probably could have been prevented.’ This is the hardest thing for young parents to hear. All of them tell me that they did not think it could happen to their child. But it does happen.”