Can one person change the world? Ask Andrew Wakefield. The discredited British doctor’s research linking autism to the Measles Mumps and Rubella vaccine sparked an anti-vaccination movement in the West despite investigative reporting showing that he fudged details and may have even been planning to profit off it. However, he has since gone on to become a messianic figure to anti-vaxxers who see him as being victimised by big pharma.
The result of this, however, is the return of diseases such as measles. America saw an outbreak at Disney World in 2015 and this year Europe has reported 41,000 cases till August 20—almost twice the 2017 figure. One key reason has been irregular vaccine supply to certain Eastern European countries; the fears sparked by Wakefield’s research have played a role with more and more people refusing to vaccinate their kids. While some might dismiss measles as a mild disease, it can turn fatal especially for the immunocompromised, aged or very young.
There are two issues here: first, the ruthless and opaque profit-mongering nature of some elements in the medical establishment has damaged people’s trust. How does one take advice from the WHO which inadvertently reintroduced cholera in Haiti? Unless these entities course-correct, public health will continue to be affected. Second, it is the educated who seem to be most sceptical of the establishment and most likely to turn away from science’s advances.
These views have started penetrating the urban middle class in India as well, where recently a woman died during a home birth that was allegedly inspired by an online ‘healer’, who warns against regular medical care so that people can raise ‘organic’ children. The effects of such misinformation have already been seen in Tamil Nadu, amplified by WhatsApp forwards. The educated should exercise the same scepticism with which they view allopathic medicine towards alternative medicines and ideologies, as there are unscrupulous people on both sides.