According to a large-scale survey examining public confidence in vaccines across the globe, Europe has been labeled as the most skeptical region regarding vaccine safety. Researchers indicate study findings could help policymakers recognize and address issues to increase public confidence in vaccines, according to Medical News Today.
As a whole, the European region had the most people – 15.8 percent – who disagreed that vaccines are safe, compared with the South East Asian region, with 4.4 percent of people disagreeing on the safety of vaccines.
In France, where the levels of people who disagreed on vaccine safety are especially high; researchers say this may be as a result of some controversies in the country over the last 20 years, including the suspected side effects of the Hepatitis B and HPV vaccines.
In other countries, some religious groups were skeptical of vaccines; however, the team found that no single religious group worldwide was more skeptical than others overall.
The investigation also found that older people – 65 and above – were generally more positive about vaccinations than people in other age groups.
Internet may escalate negative views on vaccination safety
Refusal to vaccinate may pose public health problems worldwide, such as causing diseases including polio, measles, and meningitis to make a comeback in countries where levels of infection have drastically reduced in recent decades.
Problems have also arisen with the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, leading the World Health Organization (WHO) to call for improved monitoring of vaccine confidence to prevent the problem becoming out of control and causing adverse health consequences.
The researchers note that the Internet has the potential to spread negative messages about vaccines rapidly and that authorities should not underestimate the effect this could have. They also hope that public health organizations can use this information to investigate causes for these negative attitudes and formulate responses.
“Our findings give an insight into public opinion about vaccines on an unprecedented scale. It is vital to global public health that we regularly monitor attitudes toward vaccines so that we can quickly identify countries or groups with declining confidence,” says lead study author Dr. Heidi Larson from the LSHTM. “We can then act swiftly to investigate what is driving the shift in attitudes. This gives us the best chance of preventing possible outbreaks of diseases like measles, polio, and meningitis which can cause illness, life-long disability, and death.” Dr. Heidi Larson
“It’s striking that Europe stands out as the region most skeptical about vaccine safety. And, in a world where the Internet means beliefs and concerns about vaccines can be shared in an instant, we should not underestimate the influence this can have on other countries around the world,” she concludes.
Larson and team also say that while the study could give indications of levels of confidence in effectiveness and safety of vaccines, it could not provide information about attitudes toward specific vaccines or the reasons for these attitudes. They hope that future surveys can provide this information and can use this study as a baseline for overall changes in attitudes.