Vaccination rates for measles have been dropping in South-East Asia since 2017.
The number of vaccinated individuals in the region has fallen below the 95% mark which is needed to fully immunise a community from the disease. The World Health Organisation has reported that this has caused a 50% increase in cases of measles in the last year.
Anti-vaccine beliefs are the result of a growing mistrust of medical experts and pharmaceutical companies. The miscommunication of false information has fuelled this distrust.
Furthermore, ethical and religious concerns play a part in the anti-vaccine movement. 70 million children in Indonesia were prevented from being vaccinated as the vaccine contained pig components.
Malaysia’s Health Ministry is considering changing the law to make vaccination compulsory for all school children, as it is in Singapore, where, in contrast, there were just 27 cases of measles last year.
Before vaccinations were widely distributed in the 1980s, around 2.6 million people died per year. Unvaccinated individuals not only put themselves at risk, but they can also become carriers of the disease and can transmit the virus even to vaccinated children. The outbreak of measles has increased healthcare costs significantly.
The cause of anti-vaccination sentiments signifies a shift in societal behaviour. The growth of mistrust in governments drives individuals to use the internet for information where they are often misinformed. Furthermore, the spread of this false information on social media is prevalent in South-East Asia, where some of the highest rates of social media usage have brewed scepticism of vaccines. This is yet another example of the consequences of the epidemic of fake-news.
However, if South-East Asian countries follow the actions in Singapore, where measles and diphtheria vaccines are required by law and attendance at school is seen as consent for in-school vaccinations, they run the risk of preventing children from accessing education. Nevertheless, this would prevent the spread of these diseases and would result in more people becoming vaccinated.
Legislation is necessary to prevent this situation from worsening, but could mandatory vaccinations intensify civilians mistrust in government?