The World Health Organization (WHO) has named vaccine hesitancy as one of the main threats to public health in its 2019 10 Threats to Global Health list. Its inclusion drew a lot of stunned reactions, particularly from people against vaccinations who have accused the institution of devolving from being a “sterling” agency to a “subsidiary of the pharmaceuticals industry.”

In an interview with Healthline, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., anti-vaccine activist and chairman of the Children’s Health Defense, was quoted saying that the WHO deliberately ignored research and was using its latest 10 Threats to Global Health list to steer international health policies. Conversely, the same report cited Vanderbilt University School of Medicine professor Dr. William Schaffner’s surprised yet impressed response to its inclusion in the roster, saying that it’s high time the issue is recognized for its impact, not just in the U.S., but also all over the world.

WHO defines vaccine hesitancy as a refusal or a delay in the acceptance of vaccinations despite their easy availability. The other health threats identified on the list were HIV, Dengue, Ebola and other high-threat pathogens, weak primary health care and fragile and vulnerable environments. It also listed the global influenza pandemic, air pollution and climate change, noncommunicable diseases and antimicrobial resistance.

According to the agency, vaccinations help prevent some two to three million deaths annually. It cited the lack of confidence in the health system, complacency and sometimes the inconvenience of accessing the needed vaccines as main reasons for hesitancy. With that said, the role of health workers in local communities is crucial in giving the public factual and easy-to-comprehend information that will help people better understand the benefits of vaccines.

Dr. Schaffner also noted that perhaps the reason why there is a growing number of anti-vaxxers is that people do not see an epidemic in existence. This is because vaccines, which have been popular in the past, have succeeded in eliminating diseases entirely, thus creating a sense of security that those against vaccinations use to argue their case. However, diseases like measles have started to make a comeback, and while vaccine hesitancy is not the sole reason that it is emerging again, it plays a major factor in the resurgence.

The top 10 list is part of the WHO’s information campaign for its five-year plan called the "13th General Programme of Work." The program focuses on a triple-billion goal where one billion more people will get protection from health emergencies, one billion more benefit from access to universal health coverage and one  billlion enjoy better health and well-being.