The Costs of Vaccine Refusal


Vaccines are a scientifically-proven way of preventing disease. However, many people both in Sub-Saharan Africa and in the West refuse to receive vaccines. This is often due to unproven myths and misinformation surrounding the purpose and side-effects of vaccines. Vaccine refusal leads to outbreaks of diseases that could be prevented if more people were vaccinated.


One reason some people refuse vaccines is due to their religious or spiritual beliefs.

Some people do not believe in medicine that involves more ‘artificial’ procedures like vaccines. Instead, they believe in other methods made up of more natural ingredients. It is important to remember, though, that vaccines are made up of ingredients and chemicals found in nature. Additionally, while some natural remedies can be effective, not all of them are. Vaccines have been proven to be able to prevent outbreaks of diseases such as measles and polio. It could be damaging to wholly rely on ‘natural remedies’.

Misinformation is another reason people refuse vaccines.

For example, in Nigeria in 2003, 3 states boycotted the polio immunization campaign run by the World Health Organization, meaning they refused to receive the polio vaccine. This was largely due to information spread by political and religious leaders. They told the public that the vaccines could contain HIV and cancer. This may have been because of distrust of the West and Western medicine medicine. Before the boycott, there were very small numbers of cases of polio in Nigeria. However, after the boycott, the numbers of cases increased again.

Since then, there have been more vaccination campaigns. We hope that Nigeria will be polio-free very soon.

Vaccine refusal is not limited to one region in the world. Vaccine refusal is common in Western cultures too, often also due to misinformation.

Many people refuse vaccinations for them or their children due to concern that vaccines will cause a developmental disorder called autism. While one scientist apparently showed a link between the two, he has since been disproven. Vaccines do not cause autism. However, this rumour has been very difficult to get rid of.


Measles is just one example of a preventable disease that has re-emerged due to vaccine refusal. There have been recent measles outbreaks in Sierra Leone and Madagascar. These outbreaks can be prevented with vaccines, and many countries have worked to encourage the use of vaccines. For example, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation in Sierra Leone launched an emergency vaccine campaign in response to the outbreak.

Vaccines are proven to be an effective way of preventing diseases on both an individual scale and also on a population level. There is also a phenomenon called ‘herd immunity’. This is when an individual cannot be vaccinated (some people cannot be vaccinated for certain medical reasons, which their doctor has told them about) but the are protected from the diseases because all the people around them are vaccinated, and so cannot carry and pass on the disease to them.

However, some still refuse to be vaccinated themselves or have their children vaccinated. This is occasionally due to spiritual beliefs and sometimes due to misinformation. When making the choice over whether to be vaccinated, it is important to consider that vaccines save lives. Not getting vaccinated when you have the opportunity can be very dangerous, both for you and the people around you, including your close family and community.



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