Europeans Are Coming Back Around on Vaccines
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because herd immunity only works if most people get the shot.
By Clive Cookson
Public trust in vaccines has risen over the past five years in most of Europe, suggesting that a COVID-19 inoculation would likely be accepted by a large chunk of the continent’s population — even as confidence in some other parts of the world has declined.
According to a study by the Vaccine Confidence Project surveying 284,000 people in 149 countries, trust has increased since 2015 — both in countries in Europe where anti-vax sentiment had been strongest, such as Italy and France, and in places such as the U.K. and Finland, where vaccine confidence was already relatively high.
Authorities in France, recently one of the countries most skeptical of vaccines, have made a particular effort to build up public confidence, according to Heidi Larson, the project leader.
The percentage of French people who agreed strongly that vaccines were important has increased 64 percent since 2015.
Although global data collection for the study finished as the coronavirus pandemic started at the beginning of 2020, some local surveys have continued this year. In March, just 26 percent of a national sample in France said they would not accept a COVID-19 vaccine. Comparable figures were 20 percent in Switzerland, 18 percent in Austria and just 7 percent in the U.K.
But in the U.K. that figure rose to 11 percent in June and 14 percent in July. Alex de Figueiredo, a senior researcher with the project, said the increase corresponded with falling concern over the disease following the relaxation of lockdown measures. “People are weighing up their own risks,” he said.
Still, those numbers were reassuring, Larson said, since an effective COVID-19 vaccine would need 60 percent uptake to provide good protection at the population level.
Still, the project found large falls in vaccine confidence between 2015 and 2019 in the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan and South Korea. In the Philippines, widespread reporting of negative side effects from a dengue vaccine had cut the number of people who strongly agreed vaccination was safe from 82 percent in 2015 to 58 percent in 2019.
Indonesia also experienced a large fall in public trust, according to the report. The researchers said negative attitudes were partly triggered by Muslim leaders questioning the safety of the MMR vaccine and ruling that it was forbidden under religious law because it contained ingredients derived from pigs, while local healers were promoting natural alternatives to vaccines.
The U.S. was also an outlier, Larson said, where growing skepticism of a COVID-19 vaccine had been driven by “confusing messaging at many levels.”
She added: “It is vital with new and emerging disease threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic that we regularly monitor public attitudes to quickly identify countries and groups with declining confidence, so we can help guide where we need to build trust to optimize uptake of new lifesaving vaccines.”
A separate poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation on Thursday estimated that if a vaccine were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before the U.S. election on Nov. 3 and made freely available, about 54 percent of the country would not want to be inoculated.
“Public skepticism about the FDA and the process of approving a vaccine is eroding public confidence even before a vaccine gets to the starting gate,” said Drew Altman, KFF president.
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