The anti-vaccination movement is nothing new. In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a former medical doctor, suggested a possible link between the MMR vaccination and autism in children. The Lancet, a highly respected UK scientific journal, initially published his research. However, The Lancet withdrew his article in 2004 after an investigation found major flaws in his study. The UK’s General Medical Council revoked Mr. Wakefield’s medical license, declaring that he abused a position of trust and acted unethically to provoke a dishonest and callous controversy.

There can’t be many doctors as thoroughly discredited as Andrew Wakefield but he has subsequently been seen smiling at the inauguration ball of a US president (guess who) and enjoying a very good income from continuing to promote his flawed theories in the US.

Despite this, the scandal led to a drop in MMR vaccinations that remains today. There is still no scientific study showing a link between MMR and autism. A wide-ranging review of the topic in 2020 included more than 23 million children from 138 studies. The team found that MMR vaccinations prevented infections in children and did not increase the risk of autism or encephalitis.

Who makes the most profit?

Anti-vaxxers still represent a minority of people. However, there are many active communities on the internet and social media platforms. According to a recent report in The Lancet Digital Health, around 31 million people follow anti-vaccine groups on Facebook. It also estimates that social media outlets could be making about $1 billion from advertising every year.

Meanwhile people accuse big pharma of making too much profit from drugs and vaccines, but Facebook rates as number ten in the most profitable companies in the world, the first pharmaceutical company rates as number 24. One of the ‘big pharma’ companies many people seem to hate is Pfizer, they come in at number 46. So Facebook is making vastly bigger profit out of the anti-vaxxers than the pharmaceutical companies. Draw your own conclusions.

Facebook and other social media platforms regularly receive criticism for the extent of misinformation spreading within these communities.

Vaccine misconceptions

The World Health Organization (WHO) highlight six common misconceptions about vaccines:

  • Diseases were already declining before the invention of vaccines due to improvements in hygiene and sanitation.
  • Most people who get diseases are already vaccinated.
  • Some batches of vaccines are safer than others.
  • Vaccines cause many harmful side effects and illnesses.
  • The diseases that vaccines prevent are no longer prevalent, so there is no need for vaccines.
  • Giving children multiple vaccines at once increases the risk of harmful side effects.

All of this has been totally disproved. I couldn’t find one reputable health organisation, doctor or medical publication which supports any of this. In the UK we used to call these ‘old wives’ tales’.

What risks do anti-vaxxers present?

Anti-vaxxer movements can influence people’s decision to vaccinate themselves or their children. This brings risks not only their own health, but also the health of others.

Anti-vaxxers are people who believe vaccines are unsafe and infringe on their human rights. Again, I fully support those who do not want to accept the vaccination for themselves. I don’t agree with them, but it is their right. They don’t have the right try and influence others.

Reality check

Vaccines are one of the safest and most effective health interventions available for fighting infectious diseases. They have been fundamental in the eradication and control of many formerly devastating illnesses.

According to data collected by Bloomberg the biggest vaccination campaign in history is underway. More than 8.22 billion doses have been administered across 184 countries. The latest rate was roughly 37 million doses a day. Portugal has achieved vaccinating nearly 90% of the population, That places Portugal as the third most vaccinated country in the World. A report from an UK intensive care unit treating covid infected patients said that nine out of ten of their patients were unvaccinated. Without the vaccines we would probably have deaths on the scale of the Spanish Flu of 1918. Estimates of deaths ranged from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.

According to many reports, unvaccinated patients dying of covid have made their last words “get vaccinated”.

I would rather believe them than Facebook.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman