According to Angus Thomson, Director of Vaccination Advocacy at Sanofi Pasteur, who was the special guest at a TEDxBrussels event on April 5, the success of polio and smallpox vaccination gave birth to a new unwritten contract to cooperate in the name of public health.
“People understood that although there were risks associated with vaccination – albeit very very small – they were willing to accept this,” said Thomson.
He said that the minority of people who refuse vaccination “are willingly rejecting this contract because they no longer see the need for vaccines, because they no longer see the diseases”.
“If you willingly decide not to vaccinate your child you’re rolling a dice for your children. Furthermore you’re rolling the dice for others in your community, such as the very young and the immune-compromised.”
This, he added, is leading to the outbreak of diseases which had virtually disappeared from most countries. Thomson said diseases such as polio are like “dark passengers ready to rear their ugly heads” if immunisation rates fall, and he warned against complacency.
“When infectious diseases go viral it’s not measured in YouTube hits, it’s measured in deaths.”
[View Thomson’s Prezi presentation]
The resurgence of polio in northern Nigeria occurred when public trust in vaccination evaporated amid baseless conspiracy theories linking vaccination to a western plot against Muslim women.
The idea was endorsed by religious figures and polio spread to 20 countries within a couple of years, Thomson told the audience of technology experts, activists and business leaders.
“This wasn’t due to a lack of vaccines – it was due to a failure of the public to accept vaccines,” he said. Access to healthcare and vaccines is part of the equation but public acceptance is a major problem.
“Vaccines work but they don’t work if they stay in their boxes.”
TED began in 1984 as a conference devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. These days it has grown into a global phenomenon, attracting renowned speakers and spawning a plethora of spin-off events across the world.