As the pandemic progressed, we witnessed one of science and medical research’s greatest feats. In less than a year, medical science was able to identify a new pathogen, discover an immune response against it, and develop a safe and effective vaccine. Shattering previous records of safe vaccine development, the COVID-19 vaccine is a symbol of our ever-expanding scientific and medical capabilities. However, a vaccine is only as effective as the percentage of the population willing to be immunized. The development of the COVID-19 vaccine was a feat in and of itself, but the global population was tasked with rolling up their sleeves and accepting the jab. The large-scale roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine was met with various degrees of hesitancy. Many believed that the unprecedented vaccine development and distribution plan resulted in an unprecedented rate of vaccine hesitancy. However, since the conception of vaccinations, hesitancy too has arisen. Throughout past and current vaccination campaigns, vaccine hesitancy has repeatedly slowed our path to immunity. There exists a cyclic nature between vaccine development and vaccine hesitancy. This cyclic nature precludes the possibility of reducing hesitancy prior to the next vaccination campaign.
[Vaccination with animal vaccine at the Parison Academy of Medicine, 1870]. (1870, April 23). Harper’s Weekly.
Immunisation practices date back hundreds of years. In the West, Edward Jenner is recognized as the founder of vaccinology. In 1796, Jenner injected a young boy with cowpox and subsequently demonstrated immunity to smallpox. This strategy was used to develop the smallpox vaccine (Offit, 2021). Jenner’s vaccination method was met with scepticism. Religious groups claimed vaccination opposed the will of God. Satirical cartoons suggested that the vaccine turned people into cows. Eventually, countries such as the UK and USA introduced laws mandating the smallpox vaccine. Although many opposed these laws, the strategy was successful and smallpox was eradicated in North America by the 1950s. Similar hesitancy unfolded alongside the introduction of other vaccines as well, such as the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (Pennington, 2021). Today’s society mirrors the past, as hesitancy towards the COVID-19 vaccine resulted in vaccine mandates similar to that of the smallpox vaccine. Historical and contemporary events emphasize that novel treatments are routinely met with scepticism and reluctance. While it is important to recognize that hesitancy towards newly developed treatment options is understandable, it should also be recognized that reasons for vaccine hesitancy have remained somewhat the same. Past and current reasoning for vaccine hesitancy involves sanitary, religious, scientific, and political objections. Likely, future hesitancy towards vaccines will be a result of the same reasoning (“History of,” 2018). If this reasoning is appropriately addressed, future hesitancy can be reduced.
Experts agree that the occurrence of large pandemics similar to COVID-19 are increasing in likelihood (Penn, 2021). The cyclic nature of vaccine development and hesitancy should serve as a stepping stone towards reducing the impact of the next pandemic. This can be done by working to reduce vaccine hesitancy prior to the onset of the next pandemic. Using the previously elucidated patterns of vaccine hesitancy, we are capable of predicting the causes of hesitancy, educating the global population, increasing immunisation willingness, and thereby reducing the impact of the next pandemic. Strategies for combating vaccine hesitancy that can be implemented immediately include: instilling trust in vaccination campaigns, acknowledging vaccine risks, dispensing information, partnering with low-vaccination rate communities, targeting the youth through early education, and communicating the appropriate messages regarding immunisation (Arede et al., 2019).
The feats of science and medicine are irrelevant if the political, sociological, and cultural aspects of a population hinder their applications. The advancement of science and medicine must occur in parallel to the advancement of society. If a population’s views towards science and medicine strikingly resemble that of the 18th century, the population cannot reap the benefits of 21st century science and medicine.
Arede, M., Bravo-Araya, M., Bouchard, E., Gill, G. S., Plajer, V., Shehraj, A., Shuaib, Y. A. (2019). Combating vaccine hesitancy: teaching the next generation to navigate through the post truth era. Frontiers in Public Health, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2018.00381
History of Anti-vaccination Movements. (2018, January 10). History of Vaccines. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/history-anti-vaccination-movements
Offit, P. A. (2021, March 30). Vaccine history: developments by year. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-history/developments-by-year
Penn, M. (2021, August 23). Pandemics are more likely than we thought. Global Health Institute. https://globalhealth.duke.edu/news/statistics-say-large-pandemics-are-more-likely-we-thought
Pennington, M. (2021, July 29). Vaccine hesitancy: a story as old as vaccines themselves. Eureka. https://www.criver.com/eureka/vaccine-hesitancy-story-old-vaccines-themselves