Survey shows crisis of confidence in vaccines
- Just half of people in eastern Europe think vaccines are safe, compared with 79 percent worldwide
Jun 20, 2019-
A global survey of attitudes towards science has revealed the scale of the crisis of confidence in vaccines in Europe, showing that only 59 percent of people in western Europe and 50 percent in the east think vaccines are safe, compared with 79 percent worldwide.Around the globe, 84 percent of people acknowledge that vaccines are effective and 92 percent say their child has received a vaccine. But in spite of good healthcare and education systems, in parts of Europe there is low trust in vaccines. France has the highest levels of distrust, at 33 percent.
There have been major measles outbreaks in a number of countries, which have spread across the continent, linked to vaccine hesitancy.
Dr Heidi Larson, the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said social media was amplifying anxieties. While confidence in vaccines in the UK was higher than in some other parts of Europe, “where the UK is now I would say is vulnerable,” she said.
The first Wellcome Global Monitor survey, which canvassed attitudes among 140,000 people worldwide, shows clear links between people’s trust in doctors, nurses and scientists and their confidence in vaccines. It also shows that mistrust in government institutions goes hand in hand with doubts about vaccines’ safety. A recent Guardian investigation looked into links between anti-establishment populist politics in Europe and anti-vax sentiment.
“This first-of-a-kind global survey clearly shows that people’s beliefs about science are deeply influenced by their culture, context and background,” said Imran Khan, the head of public engagement at Wellcome, which commissioned the survey from Gallup. “We need to care more about these connections if we want everyone to benefit from science.”
The link was clearest in the field of vaccines. “There are increasingly populations and entire countries around the world where confidence in vaccines is dropping and uptake is dropping. That does pose a huge public health risk,” Khan said.
Larson said social media had become an amplifier of doubt. “Social media is highly volatile. It has totally changed the landscape.” She said it was hard for scientists to combat the spread of misinformation because often it was not public. Much of it had shifted into private Facebook groups and other similarly inaccessible forums.
Larson said it could take years for the full effects of an incident undermining confidence in vaccines to be felt. Andrew Wakefield, the discredited gastroenterologist, published his paper claiming a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism in 1998. “It was five years before his report had its full impact on vaccine uptake,” Larson said.
Bangladesh and Rwanda have the highest confidence in vaccines in the world, the Global Monitor shows. Rwanda also has the highest trust in its healthcare, at 97 percent, against a global average of 76 percent.
“In developing countries, where deadly diseases like diphtheria, measles or whooping cough are more common, I’ve seen mothers queue for hours to make sure their child is vaccinated,” said
Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “It is in wealthier countries, where we no longer see the terrible impact these preventable diseases can have, that people are more reticent. This reticence is a luxury we can ill afford.”
Northern Europe, which includes the UK, has more confidence in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines than the western or eastern regions. In northern Europe, 73 percent of people think they are safe, the same figure as in northern America, and 84 percent think they are effective (83 percent in northern America). Only 65 percent of eastern Europeans think they are effective. In Ukraine, which had more than 53,000 measles cases last year, the figure is 50 percent.
Larson said the UK was generally doing better than other parts of Europe, but she was concerned. “I don’t think we have an emergency today, but I want to anticipate where we are going,” she said. “Trends are important. We need confidence building and information targeted at the younger generation.”
She said young parents needed to have their questions answered promptly and completely or they would look to social media instead. “There is a gap between the pace and availability of information from medical sources. People need to feel listened to. If they are not listened to, they lose trust.”
Unicef said in March that measles cases around the world were surging to “alarmingly high levels”. The disease is highly infectious and in the developing world it kills one in 100 children who contract it.
The Global Monitor found mixed feelings about science around the world. Half the world’s population said they knew little about science and 20 percent said they felt excluded from its benefits. Fifty-five per cent of people in France said they believed science and technology would lead to job losses in their area, as did 37 percent of people in the UK.
—© 2019 The Guardian
Published: 20-06-2019 10:14