France had the highest level of vaccine hesitancy of all Western European countries surveyed, with one-third of French people disagreeing that vaccines are safe.
Rabat – In light of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019, Wellcome Global Monitor has revealed which countries have the highest rates of hesitancy.
The survey was designed by Wellcome, a British medical charity, and conducted by Gallup World Poll between April and December 2018.
The analysis includes responses from more than 140,000 people in 144 countries and found that while most people globally believe vaccines are safe to use, 79 percent, the level of vaccine hesitancy is still high enough to cause a risk to public health, especially in Europe.
More than a fifth of people surveyed in Western Europe, 22 percent, disagreed that vaccines are safe. France had the highest level of vaccine hesitancy of all the Western European countries surveyed, with one-third of French people disagreeing that vaccines are safe. In an attempt to counter the possible effects of vaccine hesitancy, the French government has increased the number of vaccinations compulsory for children from 3 to 11.
Wellcome’s head of public engagement, Imran Khan, 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 added.
Why do high-income countries have the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy?
The study found that those living in high-income countries have the lowest levels of confidence in vaccines. Khan attributed this to the “complacency effect.” He added 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.
“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. “Perhaps what you see is the people in those countries can see what happens if you don’t vaccinate.”
The Middle East and North Africa had some of the highest rates of trust in vaccines, with a median of 85 percent for the region.
In Morocco, vaccine trust was slightly lower than the regional average, but still the overwhelming majority at 80 percent. The study found that 99 percent of those surveyed in Morocco have ensured their child has received at least one vaccine.
Fortunately, the anti-vaccine movement seems not to have taken off in Morocco. In 1987, the government implemented the national immunization program, which is to thank for huge progress in the health sector and led to the eradication of major communicable diseases, including polio, malaria, trachoma, and schistosomiasis in Morocco.
Why is this study important?
Vaccine hesitancy, which WHO defines as “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines,” has caused a resurgence in presentable diseases in recent years. Measles, for example, have seen a 30 percent increase in cases globally according to WHO.
Some countries that were close to eliminating the disease have seen a resurgence. The UN reported that measles cases worldwide had soared nearly 50 percent in 2018, killing around 136,000 people. Ukraine, where 70 percent of people do not trust vaccines, had one of the biggest measles outbreaks, with 85,000 cases recorded.
The resurgence in Measles is due to the popular misconception that measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR), causes autism, a claim that has long since been disproven.
“We are really concerned at the moment because for measles, anything less than 95 percent coverage can lead to outbreaks and that is what we are seeing,” Khan said.
Since the invention of vaccines, billions of people have been shielded from diseases that used to wreak havoc and destruction, such as smallpox and polio, both of which have been either eradicated completely or nearly so, thanks to vaccines.
Vaccinations currently prevent 2-3 million deaths a year, making it of vital importance that the global vaccine hesistancy movement doesn’t take further hold. WHO estimates that a further 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global coverage of vaccinations improves.
Dr. Ann Lindstrand, an expert in immunization at the WHO, told BBC that vaccine hesitancy is extremely serious.
“One of the most important interventions to counteract doubts and worries about vaccines is to have health workers really well trained and able and ready to recommend vaccinations based on scientific truth and to be able to respond correctly to questions and concerns that parents have and communities have,” she said.