Polio vaccination Pacific Press/Getty Images

When Populism Can Kill

By validating unfounded fears about vaccines, Italy's opposition Five Star Movement and Greece's Syriza-led government risk exposing children and other vulnerable members of society to preventable infectious diseases. When the "war on expertise" targets health-care practitioners, it has gone too far.

LONDON – Unfounded skepticism about vaccines in some communities, in developing and developed countries alike, has emerged in recent years as one of the most serious impediments to global progress in public health. Indeed, it is one of the primary reasons why eradicable infectious diseases persist today.

For example, the effort to eradicate polio worldwide has been disrupted in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria, where rule by Islamist militants has led to increased resistance against vaccination campaigns. And many high-income countries have experienced measles outbreaks in recent years, owing to fears about vaccinations that began with the publication of a fraudulent paper in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998.

More recently, skepticism about vaccine safety and efficacy has been on the rise in Southern Europe. According to a 2016 study, Greece is now among the top ten countries worldwide with the lowest confidence in vaccine safety. And, as Greek Minister of Health Andreas Xanthos has noted, health-care professionals are increasingly encountering parents who have fears about vaccinating their children.