The head of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) on Friday warned against misinformation on vaccines and vaccination programs, calling on the international community to work together to combat it.
At a discussion on vaccine misinformation and growing distrust, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore stressed that "vaccines work," as immunization prevents 2 to 3 million deaths every year, citing figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).
While acknowledging progress in public health brought about by vaccination, such as the near-eradication of polio, Fore lamented that an estimated 20 million infants are missing out on the benefits of vaccination each year, putting them at risk of diseases and putting their communities and countries at risk of outbreaks.
Noting misinformation plays a role in people's aversion to vaccination, Fore said, "Like the diseases that vaccines prevent, misinformation about vaccines can spread fast, especially online. The proliferation of information on digital media makes it increasingly difficult to present to parents what they need to know."
Pointing to an alarming spike in measles cases worldwide, she stressed, "We must not allow mistrust and misinformation to roll back the significant progress made in combating these diseases."
In particular, she called on technology companies to do more to promote credible, quality and scientifically proven content about vaccines.
"If we combine stronger programs and greater access to vaccines with scientifically accurate information to build trust, we can break down the barriers between children and the vaccinations they need and deserve," she said.
Amid a surge in outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, the UNICEF announced in April a new social media campaign, emphasizing that "vaccines are safe, and they save lives."
Friday's discussion was organized by the UNICEF and the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations. Other speakers, attending in person or through video, included WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Japanese Ambassador to the UN Koro Bessho as well as other campaigners.
While speaking via video, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said one in five children do not receive the vaccines they need, and as a result, the world now sees a resurgence in diseases that were close to elimination.
He noted "hesitancy" is one factor contributing to this "disturbing" trend, and underscored the importance of ensuring people have reliable information about vaccination.
The WHO chief stressed that at the global level, lack of access remains the biggest barrier to vaccination, and that his agency's priority is universal health coverage, "so that all people have access to quality, affordable, essential services, including vaccination."
At the discussion, an 18-year-old advocate, Ethan Lindenberger, testified to the significant need for vaccination, sharing his story of getting vaccination despite his family's misconception and his campaigning for vaccine safety across the United States.
Japanese Ambassador to the UN Koro Bessho said that ensuring and scaling up immunization coverage is one of the cornerstones for primary health care, and an important entry point for universal health coverage.