So far in 2017 there have been two major measles outbreaks in developed countries: one in Europe and the other in Minnesota in the US.
The anti-vaccination movement has grown in these regions in recent years, although the science behind it has been widely criticised.
In one notorious example, a paper published in the Lancet in 1998 suggested a link between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism.
The paper has since been discredited and withdrawn by the publisher.
Its author, Andrew Wakefield, was struck off the medical register and barred from practicing in light of several factors, including the way he obtained his blood samples, and that he was paid by solicitors representing parents in the US who believed their children had been harmed by the MMR vaccine.
Concern over public health amid declining rates of vaccinations
The measles outbreak in Minnesota was observed to be largely within the Somali community, where vaccination rates have been declining in recent years.
In 2004, 92 percent of Somali-American children had received the MMR vaccine, but this figure had declined to just 42 percent by 2014.
This is well below the 92 percent to 94 percent level required for so-called herd immunity — the concept that if enough people are vaccinated against a disease it will not spread within a population.
Populism and anti-vaccination in the West
In Italy, the incidence of measles rose over the course of one year from 220 cases to 770, coinciding temporally with proposed legislation aimed at banning vaccinations by the populist M5S movement, which captured a quarter of the country’s votes in the 2013 general election.
Meanwhile in the US, president Donald Trump – another populist figurehead – has cast doubt over the legitimacy of vaccinations.
In a statement to the Fox network in 2012, he said:
I’ve seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations, and a month later the child is no longer healthy.
The State of Technology This Week
More engagement needed
Scientists and public health officials must do more to engage with audiences in an appropriate way to ensure the public has access to credible scientific research concerning vaccinations.
This will improve public health by helping to prevent objectively dangerous concepts from gaining ground.
Failure to do so could produce catastrophic consequences, as fewer and fewer people take steps to ensure their own wellbeing, and that of the wider community.