The Vaccines Controversy – Francesca Lanni, Italy

When Misinformation Puts The Whole Society In Danger

“Vaccines represent one of the biggest victories over infectious diseases in medical science history. They are among the most successful facilities ever known.”

These are the very first lines of a report released by the Italian Federation of the Medical college (FNOMCeO) on July 20, 2016. Since it was spread, this report has become very controversial. Why?

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FNOMCeO’s document directly opposes all doctors who refuse to give vaccines to their patients or simply advise against them. It is the last in a series of measures to curtail a very new issue: during the last years more and more Italians have decided not to vaccinate their children. This is an alarming problem as it means that infectious diseases we had nearly forgotten about, thanks to approximately sixty years of vaccinations, may appear again.

In Italy, and similarly in other European countries, some vaccines are obligatory (poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus and hepatitis B) and some are recommended (whooping cough, Hemophilus influenza, measles, rubella, parotitis, meningococcus C, pneumococcus, influence and, recently, HPV). Though nine of the thirteen vaccinations provided by the National Health Service are just recommended, they are equally important as the obligatory ones. In fact, all these illnesses are roughly equally serious. So, why do many doctors advise against vaccines and why are many people so scared of them? FNOMCEO enumerates the reasons of this phenomenon.

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First of all, prejudice and distrust regarding scientific research lead people to an irrational scepticism whereas science keeps making great advances. Moreover, an inadequate scientific education together with Internet use ensure that factual information reaches people’s minds in a distorted way. Ordinary becomes extraordinary when one listens to conspiracy theories and empty clichés. One of them is the belief that vaccines are often the cause of diseases such as autism. Specifically, the responsible element would be mercury, a transition heavy metal totally scrapped in 2002.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared that “available epidemiological data do not show any evidence of a link between vaccines and Autistic Spectrum Disorders”, but this certainty is still deeply entrenched in many people’s mentalities. It is certain that the so-called “zero risk” does not exist; but only one in 2 million vaccines causes an allergic reaction to the patient. It is a risk which is worth running in view of the huge benefits for the whole society. In fact, if the overwhelming majority of people gets vaccinated, “herd immunity” will still be intact and covering the population group not recommended in turn to get vaccinated for health reasons; in other words, you may save not just your own life, but also other people’s ones.

“FNOMCEO’s document about vaccinations is extremely important”, commented the Italian Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin, “a very loud voice from scientific authorities is strongly reasserting the intention of being on the side of children and parents in order to defeat the mediaeval fear of vaccinations”.

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