The World Health Organization (WHO) raised concern on what it calls vaccine hesitancy. In a statement released on Tuesday, the U.N agency said that people who delay or refuse vaccination presents a growing problem for countries wanting to close the immunization gap.

"Vaccine hesitancy refers to delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services," WHO explained. "Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific varying across time, place and vaccines. It includes factors such as complacency, convenience and confidence."

WHO cited that one in five children worldwide still do not receive routine and life-saving immunizations. About 1.5 million children also die annually of diseases that could have been prevented with existing vaccines.

The effects of vaccine hesitancy are evident even in the U.S. In years, there have been several outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses such as pertussis and measles, at the same time the refusal rate for vaccination has gone up.

"Vaccines can only improve health and prevent deaths if they are used, and immunization programmes must be able to achieve and sustain high vaccine uptake rates." said WHO Immunization, Vaccines and Biological Department Senior Health Adviser Philippe Duclos. "Vaccine hesitancy is an increasingly important issue for country immunization programs."

Concern about the safety of vaccines is associated with vaccine hesitancy. Even in first world countries, many parents forego getting their children vaccinated because of fear of side effects.

A 2011 study has shown that the disregard of some parents for vaccination has something to do with the negative side effects of vaccine with some worrying about the chemical composition of the vaccines or the effects of multiple vaccines being administered at once.

Some parents do not also believe that vaccines are effective while others do not think that getting shots for vaccines such as those that provide protection against chickenpox and influenza are necessary.

WHO said that besides safety concerns, there are other factors that contribute to vaccine hesitancy such as negative notions about vaccines that are based on false beliefs such as vaccination can cause infertility in women, mistrust in the health care system and health service providers, misinformation, costs, role of leaders and geographic barriers.

The agency proposed several ways of addressing vaccine hesitancy and these strategies include engaging religious and influential leaders who would help promote vaccination in the community, tapping mass media, social mobilization, making vaccination convenient and accessible, providing non-financial incentives, using reminder and follow up, mandating vaccination and giving sanctions for non-vaccination, and increasing knowledge and awareness about vaccination.

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