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Vaccine Hesitancy Joins Climate Change on World Health Organization’s 2019 Global Health Threats List

The World Health Organization has released its list of global health threats for 2019. Unlike some of the health challenges on the list, at least one, vaccine hesitancy, is entirely solvable.

Vaccine hesitancy is described by the WHO as “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines,” and it threatens to reverse immense, immeasurably important public health progress over the past century. Vaccines prevent at least 2-3 million deaths annually, and the WHO notes another 1.5 million lives could be saved by vaccines. Anti-vaccine (or anti-vax) propaganda is one cause for the decline in vaccinations, but complacency about getting immunizations and even just the inconvenience of keeping up with vaccine schedules causes many more to skip out on these often life-saving shots.

Vaccine-preventable diseases including measles and diphtheria are on the rise, with measles cases up 30% worldwide. That’s a staggering increase considering the measles vaccine has been widely available for decades, typically paired with the vaccines for mumps and rubella.

Another important vaccine the WHO mentions by name: the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.

In the wide-ranging report, the WHO also notes that the world will experience another global influenza pandemic. Authors of the report wrote, “The only thing we don’t know is when it will hit and how severe it will be.” The report also makes note of the 2018 Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which reached the million-resident city of Butembo in December.