Vaccine Hesitancy in Developing CountriesVaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, has been around since the invention of the vaccine. Recently, there has been an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries due to safety concerns and long-term effects. With this skepticism, outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that were once thought mostly eradicated such as measles, pertussis and diphtheria, have increased in frequency around the world.

This year, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health. Vaccines remain the safest and most cost-effective ways of preventing diseases. Currently, vaccines save between two and three million lives a year.

Furthermore, if coverage improves, vaccines can save an additional 1.5 million lives per year. The reasons for vaccine hesitancy are complex, but a vaccine advisory group identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines and a lack of confidence as some of the root causes. With these factors identified, if now becomes a question of how to fight these causes of vaccine hesitancy in developing countries.


Some health experts have theorized that vaccine skepticism stems from the fact that vaccines are so effective that parents no longer remember or fear vaccine-preventable diseases like measles and polio. Instead, they may focus their anxieties on the safety of vaccines, effects or the number and timing of injections.

Without a proper understanding of the devastating effects of these diseases, parents have less of a motivation to vaccinate. EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukatis said at an international health conference, “We have become victims of our own success.”


Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries is often bolstered by the need for medical infrastructure. Inadequacy and the inequities in health systems like poverty, the disparity in infant mortality and life expectancy and a need for trained providers damages community trust.

To combat this, many countries have implemented mandatory vaccinations in schools, with mixed results. In India, for example, during their measles and rubella vaccination campaign, parents objected to their children being vaccinated without their consent, stalling the campaign in court.

Rwanda, on the other hand, was successful in its HPV vaccination campaign by coupling it with an information campaign. The campaign targeted parents and explained the need for this vaccine.


Much of the anti-vaxxer movement is built in misinformation. Vaccine hesitancy in developing countries often stems from rumors about vaccines. For instance, that the polio and HPV vaccines caused infertility and impotency. The movement stems from general concerns about the safety of vaccines.

Health workers, especially those operating in the communities, are the parents’ most trusted health advisors and act as the biggest influencer of vaccination decisions. Because of their position, they must be supported so that they may provide parents with credible information. The most effective campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy in developing countries are the ones that tailor to the community. Healthcare workers in the community are vital for implementing these campaigns.

In Rwanda, for example, healthcare workers went door to door to explain the benefits of the HPV vaccine. They focused on the fact that the vaccination is meant to prevent cancer. The workers brought diagrams of the female reproductive system. They also dispelled rumors by explaining that cervical cancer is far more likely to cause infertility than vaccines. Because the campaigned was tailored to the community, it was met with a lot of success.

Overcoming Vaccine Hesitancy

While there is an increase in vaccine hesitancy in developing countries and around the world, immunization campaigns are experiencing successes. Transmission of wild poliovirus, for example, may stop in Afghanistan and Pakistan this year. Additionally, cervical cancer may be eliminated in 181 countries by the end of the century.

To keep this up, health officials have to be proactive in fighting vaccine hesitancy in developing countries by fighting complacency, making access to healthcare more convenient and building confidence by creating programs tailored to the community.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

World Health Organization
The World Health Organization (WHO) is a worldwide company first launched in April of 1948. WHO was established as a specialized agency of the United Nations, created to focus on improving the health of our society.

Now employing more than 7000 people in 150 countries around the world, WHO strives to ensure that everyone has access to the most basic needs everyone deserves. The World Health Organization focuses on several important areas, including noncommunicable and communicable diseases, health systems and promoting health through the life course.

Smallpox and Polio

The WHO’s campaigns against two deadly diseases of smallpox and polio were extremely notable. Thanks to the WHO’s multimillion-dollar vaccination campaign, the smallpox vaccine became available around the world in 1967. The campaign was successful, and by 1980, the world was free from the disease.

In 1988, the World Health Organization once again created a vaccine campaign, but this time for polio. Polio was once a disease that affected people all over the world, but thanks to the efforts of the WHO, it is now confined to South Asia and Africa.

The Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics Campaign

In April of 2018, WHO announced it would be collaborating with several organizations — including Gavi the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and many others — to vaccinate close to one billion people in Africa against yellow fever. The hope is to have reached this goal by 2026.

This campaign is called the Eliminate Yellow Fever Epidemics, and was launched by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who stated, “With one injection we can protect a person for life against this dangerous pathogen.” This is just one of many comprehensive strategies created by this organization to combat the outbreak of deadly diseases across the globe.

The World Health Organization, along with Gavi The Vaccine Alliance and many other organizations, have made an incredible amount of vaccines available all over the world. They have collaborated to provide vaccines for things such as tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis b.

Partnerships of Improvement

January of 2018 also sparked a new collaboration between WHO and U.N. Environment. This new agreement will increase joint action between the two organizations in the effort to increase action on topics such as air pollution, water quality and food and nutrition issues.

These organizations have recognized that the environments in developing countries cause hundreds of thousands of deaths per year, because of pollution and contaminated drinking water. With these two major organizations working closely to implement new programs, the hope is to tackle these major issues and see growth each year. The two organizations will meet annually to discuss strategies and plans for reaching these goals.

Changing Lives, Eliminating Disease

For 70 years, the World Health Organization has been a leader in strategic planning and implementation of new programs around the globe. Hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries contract diseases and suffer from malnourishment each year, but WHO is working with leaders all over the world to ensure everyone is able to access lifesaving vaccines, clean water and shelter.

Working in over 150 countries around the world and raising millions of dollars each year, the World Health Organization strives to end diseases globally, and provide support to countries in need. With the support of world leader and donor countries, the WHO is changing the outcome of countless lives.

– Allisa Rumreich
Photo: Flickr