A section of the citizens in Shillong recently took out a rally in protest against the compulsory vaccination missive by the government to check the spread of Covid-19. The protesters’ argument hinged on personal liberty. None can force citizens of a democratic country to get vaccinated against any viral inspection. Similar sentiments have been resonating across the country but around the world.
Last year, there were violent protests in some parts of Europe where protesters wanted their respective governments to revoke stringent regulations for non-vaccinated citizens. For instance, in Belgium, where the government started the rule of Covid card for getting entry into public places, a section of the citizens wanted a rollback of the rule. Similar protests took place in France, Croatia and the UK. In some places, the protests turned violent.
The debate continues on whether States should make vaccination compulsory. Vaccination is necessary for developing herd immunity. But many citizens who are against Covid-19 vaccination are arguing that despite the shots, people are getting infected and some are dying too. Some citizens also cite religious reasons behind their decision to stay away from vaccination.
Anti-vaccination protests are as old as the invention of vaccination. Time and again, a section of citizens around the world had raised their voices against this preventive medical measure. In fact, there was strong resistance against small pox vaccine in the 19th century.
British physician and scientist Edward Jenner’s vaccination method to prevent widespread small-pox was despised by many.
In his cowpox experiment, Jenner showed that he could prevent the viral disease in children by infecting them with lymph from a cowpox blister. But the method was objected by many on the basis of sanitary, religious, scientific and political reasons. Many people also objected saying the vaccination violated personal liberty, as many citizens are arguing today.
The Vaccination Act of 1853 ordered mandatory vaccination for infants up to 3 months old, and the Act of 1867 extended this age requirement to 14 years, adding penalties for vaccine refusal. The laws were met with from citizens who demanded the right to control their bodies and those of their children. The Anti Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League were formed in response to the mandatory laws.
In 1885, the Leicester Demonstration March was among the most significant in the history of anti-vaccination protests.
In America too, misgivings about vaccination led to protests and subsequently led to the formation of the Anti-Vaccination Society of America in 1879.
As science progressed and more people became aware of modern preventive as well as curative medications, apprehensions could be alleviated to a great extent. But the anti-vaccination protests continued even in the 20th century when medical science had already made progress.
In the 1970s, an international controversy over the safety of the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) inoculation started in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America. In the UK, the uproar against DTP immunisation started after allegations that 36 children suffered neurological conditions after vaccination. The anti-vaccination sentiment continued despite the government’s attempts to alleviate fear.
About 25 years later, the country saw another bout of protest against vaccination, this time for measles, mumps and rubella.
With a new pandemic afflicting the world population, history of anti-vaccination sentiments is being repeated. Citizens have varied reasons for not getting vaccinated. In such a situation, it is the duty of the authorities concerned to opt for aggressive awareness programmes instead of making stringent rules. A proper dissipation of information and scientific explanations about vaccination will help in mitigating fear to a great extent. When it comes to vaccinating children, both parents and wards should be incorporated in awareness programmes. Publication of correct data about the pandemic and complete transparency about vaccination and its effects on health condition will also help citizens understand the problem.
Viral diseases do not have curative medicines and prevention is the only way to keep life-threatening viruses at bay. At the end, it is our faith in science that can help in overcoming the fear of the unknown.
~ Team Sunday Monitor