People in Western Europe have the lowest levels of confidence in vaccines worldwide, according to the world’s biggest survey on global attitudes to public health and science.
More than a fifth – 22 percent – of people surveyed in Western Europe disagreed that vaccines are safe, while in Eastern Europe, 17 percent disagreed that they were effective, the Wellcome Global Monitor, published on Wednesday, showed.
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France had the lowest levels of trust of any country included in the report, with one-third of French people disagreeing that vaccines are safe. It is also the only country where a majority of people – 55 percent – believed science and technology will reduce the total number of jobs available.
The poll of more than 140,000 people across 144 countries comes amid several outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in countries where sophisticated immunisation programmes are already in place including the United States, the Philippines and Brazil.
Parental concern regarding false information about the dangers of vaccines is thought to be the main contributor, however, religious values and a lack of trust in medical professions can also play a role.
‘Culture, context and background’
Imran Khan, Wellcome’s head of public engagement, said the study showed that “people’s beliefs about science are deeply influenced by their culture, context and background.”
“We need to care more about these connections if we want everyone to benefit from the science,” he said in a press release on Wednesday.
What impacts people’s trust in vaccines?
Find out the results from the Wellcome Global Monitor, the world's largest survey into attitudes towards health and science 👉 https://t.co/liTZostmE2@GallupNews | #wmonitor #VaccinesWork https://t.co/nebymbyizI
— Wellcome (@wellcometrust) June 19, 2019
The survey also found that people living in high-income countries have the lowest levels of confidence in vaccines, something Khan attributed to the ‘complacency effect’.
“If you look at those countries in our survey which have very high rates of confidence in vaccines, places like Bangladesh and Egypt, these are areas where you do have more infectious diseases,” Khan told AFP news agency.
“Perhaps what you see is the people in those countries can see what happens if you don’t vaccinate,” Khan said, adding that in developed countries people are both less likely to catch certain infectious diseases and more likely to be treated effectively by their healthcare systems if they do.
Bangladesh and Rwanda had the highest level of confidence in vaccines, with almost 100 percent in both countries agreeing that they were safe, effective and important for children to have.
Despite some scepticism, however, worldwide levels of trust in vaccines are high, with 81 percent of those surveyed agreeing that vaccines are safe and 92 percent of parents saying their children had received a vaccine.
Charlie Weller, Wellcome’s head of vaccines, called the results “reassuring” but added that people “cannot afford to be complacent”.
“To ensure society gets the full benefit of vaccines, we need to make sure that people have confidence in both the safety and effectiveness of vaccines and understand more about the complex reasons why this is not always the case,” Weller said in a press release.
The survey was designed by Wellcome, a British medical charity, and conducted by Gallup World Poll between April and December 2018.
Along with vaccines, the study asked people about their attitudes towards science and who to go to for health advice.
It found that overall trust in doctors, nurses and scientists was high, with more than eight in 10 people worldwide saying they have “some” or “a lot” of trust in health advice from medical workers.
However half of the world’s population said they knew little – if anything – about science, with almost one in five saying they feel excluded from the benefits of science.
A “significant” gap was also noted between what men and women said they knew about science. In every region, men were more likely than women to say they knew “some” or “a lot” about science, however, the gap was considerably larger in Western Europe than in the Middle East or Southeast Asia.