Following one of the largest ever global surveys of attitudes of people on vaccines across 67 countries, researchers have found that the European region is the most skeptical about vaccine safety.
With recent disease outbreaks triggered by people refusing vaccination, the authors believe the findings provide valuable insights, which could help policymakers across the world identify and address issues.
"The new study, published in EBioMedicine, is led by researchers from the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, together with co-authors at Imperial College London and the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore," a press release stated.
Around 66,000 people across 67 countries were surveyed to discover their views on whether vaccines are important, safe, effective, and compatible with their religious beliefs.
Although overall sentiment towards vaccines was positive across the countries surveyed, the researchers found significant variation in attitudes around the world.
The European region had seven of the ten countries in the global sample that were the least confident in vaccine safety (France, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Armenia and Slovenia).
The study found that France was the country least confident in safety, with 41% of those surveyed disagreeing that vaccines are safe, more than three times the global average of 12%. France was followed by Bosnia & Herzegovina (36%), Russia (28%) and Mongolia (27%), with Greece, Japan and Ukraine not far behind (25%).
Meanwhile, the Southeast Asian region was most confident in vaccine safety across countries, including Bangladesh (less than 1% did not think vaccines are safe), Indonesia (3%) and Thailand (6%).
Study lead author, Dr Heidi Larson from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said â€śOur 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 towards vaccines so that we can quickly identify countries or groups with declining confidence. 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."
Public trust in immunization is an increasingly important global health issue. Decreases in confidence can lead to people refusing vaccines, which in turn has triggered disease outbreaks such as measles in the US, Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa. It has also caused setbacks to the global polio eradication programme.
"Itâ€™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,â€ť Dr Heidi Larson added.
The finding also suggests that people do not necessarily dismiss the value of vaccination even if they have doubts about how safe vaccines are.
Dr Larson stated: "Our study suggests that the public largely understands the importance of vaccines, but safety is their primary concern. This could reflect a worrying confidence gap and shows that vaccine acceptance is precarious. The findings underline that the scientific and public health community needs to do much better at building public trust in the safety of vaccination.â€ť
Bangladesh, Iran and Ecuador had the highest proportion of people who agreed that vaccines are important, while Russia, Italy and Azerbaijan reported most skepticism around their importance.
Although the researchers found that in some countries particular religious groups were more skeptical of vaccines than others were, no single religion was associated with negative attitudes worldwide, indicating that the impact is dependent on the local context, rather than being driven by the religious doctrine itself.