The World Health Organisation has identified "vaccine hesitancy" as a top ten global health threat in 2019. Vaccination uptake rates are declining in many countries, particularly for the MMR vaccine. As a result, measles outbreaks are on the rise. A serious outbreak in New York State has led to strict controls on potentially infected children entering public places and fines for parents refusing to vaccinate. Preliminary World Health Organisation data indicates that measles infections are up three-fold in 2019 compared to a similar period last year.
Among the voices speaking against this threat are head of the European Medicines Agency, Guido Rasi and UK Health and Social Care minister Matt Hancock.
Rasi notes an alarming rate of infections across the European Economic Area. He also calls on parents not to rely on herd immunity for their children. Because some vulnerable groups cannot be vaccinated there is a need for all those who can have the vaccine to do so. Rasi points out that regulators remain vigilant to harmful side effects, continuously monitor and analyse the safety of vaccines as with other medicinal products.
Hancock is asking social media platforms to do more to stop false information about vaccines being amplified by their services. He is also calling for new legislation to require social media companies to take down anti-vax content.
UK Government is considering imposing a wider duty of care on social media companies to tackle a broad range of issues from terrorist propaganda to child sexual abuse. A new independent regulator will be set up to oversee that companies are meeting the required standards.
In its Online Harms White Paper, published for consultation on 8 April, a new regulatory regime is proposed to force online companies to shoulder responsibility for content on their service. Inaccurate anti-vaccination messaging is identified as a type of activity that while not currently illegal can cause serious harm. New codes of practice will be developed to explain in more detail what businesses will have to do to comply.