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  • Representational photo of a vaccine

    Representational photo of a vaccine | Photo: Reuters

Published 19 June 2019

A study shows that just 59 percent of Europeans believe that vaccines are safe, compared with 79 percent worldwide.

A global study on attitudes towards science and medicine reported findings Wednesday showing that vaccines, one of the world’s most widely- used medical products, is being confronted by increasing skepticism in high-income countries, especially in Europe.


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Most people in the world think vaccines are safe and efficient at preventing infectious diseases including rubella, diphtheria, smallpox, polio, and whooping cough. However, a significant number of people, up to 50 percent in Eastern Europe, express reservations about the safety of vaccines.

More surprising, in Europe, “greater scientific knowledge or level of education is actually associated with less confidence in vaccines,” says the report.

France is the European country with the least confidence in vaccines. One-third of French people studied believe that vaccines are not safe with a smaller number of about 10 percent completly disagreeing with the idea that it is important for children to be vaccinated. Regardless, even if that small a number of people keeping their children unvaccinated against something like, for example, the measles, is sufficient to cause a major outbreak.

Social media plays a role in this trend. The study explains that anxieties and fears about the safety of vaccines have always existed but took a darker turn with the rise of social media, which allow these anxieties to reach wider audiences.

They have become an “amplifier of doubt” says Dr. Heidi Larson, the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Social media is highly volatile. It has totally changed the landscape.” She says and adds that it is hard for scientists to fight against the spread of misinformation because it is often not public, much of it having shifted into private Facebook groups or inaccessible forums.

Larson said “it could take years for the full effects of an incident undermining confidence in vaccines to be felt.”

The study surveyed more than 140,000 people around the world and showed clear links between people’s trust in doctors, nurses and scientists, and their confidence in vaccines. “People with a high trust in doctors or nurses are very likely to say vaccines are safe,” the author of the study says, recommending that scientists need to raise awareness and ensure people have access to verified and strong information from those they trust.

Globally, more than 90 percent of parents say their children have been vaccinated, and even in countries like France, it would appear that many people who doubt the safety or effectiveness of vaccines still agree to have their children vaccinated.

However, recent outbreaks of measles in the U.S., Brazil, and India confirm that we cannot take herd immunity for granted.

Understanding trends in people’s attitudes to vaccines will be critical to maintaining public health in the years ahead.

Opponents of vaccination believe that children’s immune systems can deal with most infectious diseases naturally. According to them, injecting vaccine ingredients into a child may have consequences like \ seizures, paralysis or death.

They argue that various studies prove that vaccines may cause problems like autism, ADHD, and diabetes, however many have been debunked or refuted.

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