18 Sept 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis
1) On ‘vaccine hesitancy’: deadly global spread
- With a 30% increase in measles cases worldwide in 2018, the World Health Organization, in January 2019, included ‘vaccine hesitancy’ as one of the 10 threats to global health this year.
- The threat from vaccine hesitancy, which is defined as the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines”, only appears to have grown more dangerous to public health.
- After the rise in measles cases in 2018, there have been around 3,65,000 measles cases reported from 182 countries in the first six months of 2019. This is because measles viruses kill immune cells, leaving the child vulnerable to infectious diseases for two to three years.
- The biggest increase, of 900% in the first six months this year compared with the same period last year, has been from the WHO African region, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar and Nigeria accounting for most cases.
- There has been a sharp increase in the WHO European region too with 90,000 cases recorded in the first six months — more than the numbers recorded for the whole of 2018.
- The infection spread in the European region has been unprecedented in recent years — 1,74,000 cases from 49 of the 53 countries between January 2018 and June 2019. Last month the U.K., Greece, the Czech Republic and Albania lost their measles elimination status.
- A 2018 report on vaccine confidence among the European Union member states shows why vaccine coverage has not been increasing in the European region to reach over 90% to offer protection even to those not vaccinated.
- It found younger people (18-34 years) and those with less education are less likely to agree that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is safe.
- According to a March 2019 report, only 52% respondents from 28 EU member states agree that vaccines are definitely effective in preventing diseases, while 33% felt they were probably effective.
- More alarming is that 48% of the respondents believed that vaccines cause serious side effects and 38% think vaccines actually cause the disease that they are supposed to protect against.
- A striking similarity is seen in India too. A 2018 study found low awareness to be the main reason why 45% of children missed different vaccinations in 121 Indian districts that have higher rates of unimmunised children.
- While 24% did not get vaccinated due to apprehension about adverse effects, 11% were reluctant to get immunised for reasons other than fear of adverse effects.
- Thus, much work remains to be done to address misinformation. With social media playing a crucial role in spreading vaccine disinformation, the commitment by Facebook to “reduce distribution” of vaccine misinformation will be helpful in winning the war against vaccine deniers.
- Measles vaccine not only provides lifelong protection against the virus but also reduces mortality from other childhood infections. Overcoming ‘vaccine hesitancy’ can reduce the global spread of measles infection.
2) On attacks against Saudi oil facilities
- The immediate impact of last week’s drone attacks on the Saudi Aramco-owned Khurais oilfield and Abqaiq oil processing facility has been the suspension of more than half of Saudi Arabia’s daily crude oil output, thereby affecting contribution to global supply.
- While the Saudis have restored a portion of the supply that was hit, the sudden disruption resulted in the highest spike (nearly 20%) in Brent crude prices in more than a decade before the U.S. President’s statement that America would release some of its strategic reserves resulted in the price easing back to $66 per barrel (a 10% increase over the day).
- While the Houthi militia fighting Yemen’s Saudi Arabia-backed government in a four-year-long civil war claimed responsibility for the attacks, the U.S. has suggested that Iran was responsible for them.
- After an aggressive statement that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” to respond to this alleged provocation from Iran, Mr. Trump suggested that he was still trying to draw the Iranians to make a deal over their nuclear programme.
- Iran’s response has been to dismiss the allegations accompanied by a refusal to talk on the U.S.’s terms. Yet, for all his bluster and unreliable policy decisions. Mr. Trump has sought to avoid conflict or to engage in new military adventures.
- An opening Iran must seize and work toward de-escalation through diplomacy. Meanwhile, the Saudis must halt their Yemen intervention and leave it to the UN to broker peace in a battered country.
- The Saudi-led military campaign, supported with logistics support from the U.S. and the U.K., has only brought a deadlock in Yemen, while escalating the conflict to include energy supply targets that the world had imagined to be secure.
- The sudden disruption of global crude oil supply is the unintended consequence of the securing of the diligently crafted P5+1+EU-Iran nuclear deal, the Saudis’ reckless adventure in Yemen and the Iranian empowerment of its proxies in West Asia as a response.
- This development is bound to affect several emerging economies, including India’s. The Union Petroleum Ministry has sought to allay fears of a supply cut by relaying messages of assurance from Aramco officials.
- But there is already an indication that crude prices would rise further due to an increase in the risk premium, leading to increased fuel pump costs.
- India imports it’s more than two-thirds of its oil from West Asia, a price surge is expected to impact the current account, and will result in further currency depreciation as was the case on Monday.
- Higher fuel costs and the imported inflation could also hurt the consumer at a time of a slowdown in the economy. The government should be prepared to handle the fallout with steps such as re-evaluating the excise duties on petroleum products.