Medical populism and immunisation programmes: Illustrative examples and consequences for public health

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Various factors have been implicated in vaccine hesitancy and loss of vaccine confidence, but the specific ways and particular moments in which immunisation programmes and vaccine scares are politicised, exacerbating negative attitudes about vaccines and leading to retrogressive policies, have been relatively under-examined. This paper applies the concept of ‘medical populism’ [Lasco, G., & Curato, N. (2019). Medical populism. Social Science & Medicine, 221(1), 1–8. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2018.12.006] to examine these under-studied dynamics, looking at political actors and how they ‘construct antagonistic relations between “the people” whose lives have been put at risk by “the establishment”’ in the performance of vaccine-related crises. Four illustrative cases – from Nigeria, Italy, Ukraine, and the Philippines – are presented to demonstrate the descriptive and analytic value of medical populism beyond the framing and characterisation of the politics of health. The study underscores the need to understand people's perceptions and ‘explanatory models’ of vaccines and vaccine failures, to look at the political milieux that underpin immunisation programmes, and to anticipate and address knowledge claims made by political actors.