Müzeyyen Yüce/ DUVAR

Due to anti-vaccination sentiment that has increased in Turkey in recent years, the number of those refusing to vaccinate their children has skyrocketed from 183 to 23,000 in only 7 years.

The consequences for public health have also quickly revealed themselves, as the number of those catching measles during the first 9 months of last year increased fivefold compared to the same period in 2018, reaching 2666. 

“What’s more is that the number of laboratory-confirmed measles cases rose from 69 in 2017 to 510 in the first nine months of 2018. As long as there is not a concerted effort to combat this in Turkey, there will be a growing measles epidemic. Without losing any more time, we are calling upon the Ministry of Health to inform their interlocutors and do what is necessary, said Turkish Medical Association (TTB) head Sinan Adıyaman. 

In recent years in Turkey, best-selling authors have written conspiracy theory-filled books railing against vaccinations, which has likely contributed to the rise in families that are opting to not vaccinate their children. 

“Vaccines have fulfilled their expectations since they were first recommended as a method of preventing child fatalities. In 1989, five million children were killed due to illnesses like whooping cough, diptheria, tetanus, measles, polio, and tuberculosis, while today the number of those dying from these six illnesses is in the 100,000 range. According to World Heath Organization (WHO) figures, the majority of children in Europe contracting measles are those who were unvaccinated,” Adıyaman said. 

According to the TTB’s Filiz Ünal, there are two primary groups in Turkey that are increasingly choosing to not vaccinate their children: 

“One of the groups are religious people who consider [vaccines] to be a sin, the other are ‘postmodern’ people that question the safety of vaccines. There are questions as to what the vaccine contains and whether or not it is necessary. When given the sufficient scientific information, we can reach an agreement with these postmodern families. But those that need to be reached the most are those who reject vaccinations on a religious basis. It is impossible to reach out to them with scientific data. This was something I frequently encountered while on duty in [the conservative Ankara district] of Sincan, Ünal said. 

Leaders of religious orders and communities in Turkey have spoken out against vaccines, saying ‘did they exist in the past? Don’t get them’ and ‘modern medicine is interfering with God’s work’,” Ünal added.