Vaccine mistrust leaves populations vulnerable, global study shows

Worldwide, 79 per cent of people agree that vaccines are safe and 84 per cent agree that they are effective, with trust highest in poorer countries, Wellcome Global Monitor study says.

72% of people in North America agreed vaccines are safe with pockets of lower confidence across globe

Abel Zhang, 1, smiles after receiving the last of three inoculations, including a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), as his mother Wenyi Zhang checks on him in February in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Trust in vaccines — one of the world's most effective and widely used medical products — is highest in poorer countries but weaker in wealthier ones where skepticism has allowed outbreaks of diseases such as measles to persist, a global study found on Wednesday.

France has the least confidence of any country in the world in the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, with a third believing that vaccines are unsafe, according to the study.

While most parents do choose to vaccinate their children, varying levels of confidence expose vulnerabilities in some countries to potential disease outbreaks, the study's authors said, recommending that scientists need to ensure people have access to robust information from those they trust.

Public health experts and the World Health Organization (WHO) say vaccines save up to 3 million lives every year worldwide, and decades of research evidence consistently shows they are safe and effective.

But to achieve "herd immunity" to protect whole populations, immunization coverage rates must generally be above 90 per cent or 95 per cent, and vaccine mistrust can quickly reduce that protection.

"Over the last century, vaccines have made many devastating infectious diseases a distant memory," said Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust health charity, which co-led the Wellcome Global Monitor study.

"It is reassuring that almost all parents worldwide are vaccinating their children. However, there are pockets of lower confidence in vaccines across the world."

Deconstructing myths

The spread of measles, including in major outbreaks in the United States, the Philippines and Ukraine, is just one of the health risks linked to lower confidence in vaccines.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, false rumours about polio vaccines being part of a Western plot have in recent years hampered global efforts to wipe out the crippling disease.

We try hard to convince them of the huge advantages vaccination brings.-  Marie-Claire Grime

The study, led by Wellcome and polling company Gallup, covered 140,000 people from more than 140 countries.

It found 6 per cent of parents worldwide — equivalent to 188 million — say their children are unvaccinated. The highest totals were in China at 9 per cent, Austria at 8 per cent and Japan at 7 per cent.

The study also found that three-quarters of the world's people trust doctors and nurses more than anyone else for health advice, and that in most parts of the world, more education and greater trust in health systems, governments and scientists is a also sign of higher vaccine confidence.

In some high-income regions, however, confidence is weaker. Only 72 per cent of people in North America and 73 per cent in Northern Europe agree that vaccines are safe. In Eastern Europe it is just 50 per cent.

Heidi Larson, director of the vaccine confidence project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, worked with researchers on this study. She said it "exposes the paradox of Europe" which, despite being a region with among the highest income and education levels, also has the world's highest levels of vaccine skepticism.

For Marie-Claire Grime, who works in a pharmacy northeast of Paris, questions about vaccines are a daily challenge. They come mainly from parents who say they're worried about "a lot of chemicals" being put into their children, she says. She does her best to allay such fears.

(Wellcome Global Monitor)

"We spend time deconstructing the myths. We try hard to convince them of the huge advantages vaccination brings," Grime told Reuters at her shop in the town of Bobigny. "It is sometimes discouraging to find ourselves repeating the same things all over again."
The French have emerged the large global survey as the biggest skeptics in the world about the safety of vaccines.

In poorer regions of the world, trust levels tend to be much higher, with 95 per cent in South Asia and 92 per cent in Eastern Africa feeling confident that vaccines are safe and effective.

With files from Reuters


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