When the World Health Organization (WHO) first listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019, I sorely underestimated the ensuing consequences of such a trend. Over the course of that year, however, measles cases began to spike across North America, ultimately reaching levels of infection unheard of since 1992, as outbreaks took root in — and ravaged — largely unvaccinated communities.
Mainstream media endeavoured to match pace with the emergence of new cases and pockets of infection, and so too, it seemed, did the most vocal anti-vaccine advocates.
As young children were suffering and succumbing to a disease preventable by modern science, parents pleading for exemption on the basis of free choice were pushing misinformation — albeit sometimes with good intention — with the aim of persuading others to abstain from an evidence-based preventative health measure that severs the risk of death from infection in the vast majority of cases.
And then in walked COVID-19.
If I could have bought stocks in a word from the English dictionary during the early phases of the pandemic, I would have placed my trust in unprecedented. One of the only concrete facts we knew for a time was that COVID-19 had not existed previously within the human population and now it was spreading rapidly with far-reaching consequences. We could make predictions based on its similarities to SARS and MERS-CoV, but this was still new territory.
Even as a public health graduate, I felt blindsided.
For a while, I was optimistic that the initial lockdowns and public health recommendations would be sufficient to contain the virus, but the world continued moving. And as it did, confusion quickly spiralled into conspiracy as individuals already skeptical of institutional integrity and scientific reasoning assumed self-credentialed titles of researcher and expert.
When the first COVID-19 vaccines were approved for public administration, I was overwhelmingly grateful to have a better resource with which I could protect my high-risk loved ones. But by that point, I had already accepted that the rollout of vaccines would very likely be inequitable and…