Anti-vax movement growing in Brazil as measles makes a comeback

. Aug 05, 2019
Anti-vax movement growing in Brazil as measles makes a comeback

Established in 1978, Brazil’s national immunization program offers 19 free types of vaccines. Through effective public health campaigns, the country has eradicated a series of diseases, such as measles, polio, diphtheria, and rubella. Some of them, however, are staging a comeback, as vaccination rates are dropping in Brazil, accompanied by the rise of anti-vax movements.

The Health Ministry hadn’t observed a single case of measles in Brazil since 2000. However, in 2018, there were 10,262 registered cases. This year,

there have been another 426 confirmed cases, of which most are concentrated in São Paulo. In 40 days, the state saw a 586-percent increase in cases of measles. Not surprisingly, the state had only achieved 5 percent of its vaccination target against the disease.&nbsp;</p> <p>The government has confirmed that <a href="">vaccination rates for children under two years old</a> have been decreasing since 2011. In 2018, the government hoped to innoculate 95 percent of the population against measles, but vaccination rates only reached 71 to 84 percent.</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/564007"></div><script src=""></script> <h2>Why are vaccination rates decreasing?</h2> <p>Outbreaks of deadly diseases highlight several problems in Brazil’s coveted immunization system. As diseases get eradicated, people overlook the threat and stop getting vaccinated. With less immunization, diseases can make vicious comebacks, as observed in the current measles outbreak. Another problem is that working parents can’t find the time to take their children to vaccination centers, as they only open during business hours.&nbsp;</p> <p>Others are simply scared of taking too many vaccines, according to Dr. Renato Kfouri, President of the Scientific Department of Immunization at the Brazilian Society of Pediatricians. “We have to understand that [the decreasing vaccination rates] have different causes. [The reasons why people don’t get vaccinated] vary according to different regions and social classes,” said Dr. Kfouri. “We have to look at this as a multifactor phenomenon.”&nbsp;</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/563996"></div><script src=""></script> <p>In reality, 95 percent of Brazilians still believe in vaccinating their children. However, <a href="">38 percent of the population worries about the safety of vaccines</a> and 45 percent of Brazilians are scared of harmful side effects. Out of 1,000 volunteers, 4.5 percent of parents refuse to vaccinate their children, according to a study conducted by the São Leopoldo Mandic University, in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.</p> <p>With growing fear of vaccines, the focus is shifting towards a potential anti-vaccine movement emerging in Brazil. The movement is listed as one of the 10 biggest threats to public health in 2019, according to the World Health Organization. Anti-vaccine sentiment hasn’t gained much traction in Brazil, but social media has helped proliferate these dangerous ideas.&nbsp;</p> <p>There are a series of anti-vaccine Brazilian Facebook groups, one of which features 13.2 thousand members. Most posts are translated from English and share information on how to fight fatal diseases using homeopathy, oils, and other natural methods.</p> <p>A number of Brazilian YouTubers have made their own videos against vaccination campaigns. One of them has already been viewed 825 thousand times and another claims Bill Gates is behind a plot to decrease the world population through poisonous vaccines. Despite emerging anti-vaccine groups on social media, Dr. Kfouri insists that the movement is still irrelevant in Brazil.</p> <p>“Brazil doesn’t have an organized anti-vaccine movement like they do in other countries,” said Dr. Kfouri. “There are some anti-vaccine groups on social media, but they don’t impact our national immunization program.”&nbsp;</p> <script src="" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What needs to be done?</h2> <p>Although the anti-vaccine movement doesn&#8217;t pose an actual threat to the country’s public health, decreasing vaccination rates are alarming. According to Dr. Kfouri, the Ministry of Health has to increase its vaccination teams and provide better training. Moreover, the Ministry needs to ensure that vaccination centers don’t run out of vaccines and that they stay open during the night and on weekends to attract working parents. Dr. Kfouri also recommends that the government ramps up its vaccination programs in schools.&nbsp;</p> <p>In order to prevent anti-vaccine sentiment, the Ministry of Health has set up a WhatsApp account to fight fake news. Through this initiative, the Ministry hopes they can quickly combat the spread of false information about public health.&nbsp;</p> <p>“We need to invest in equipment and improve our registration of vaccines as well as our communication campaigns. More importantly, we need to better train our professionals working in the 35,000 vaccination rooms across the country,” said Dr. Kfouri.

Martha Castro

Martha Castro worked as an intern at The Brazilian Report in 2019. She is a Brazilian journalism and political science student at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

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