But the amount of people that don’t believe vaccines are safe and effective is alarming and until everyone is convinced, we are all at risk.

The biggest and first of its kind global survey into public attitudes to health and science revealed high overall global trust in doctors, nurses and scientists, and high confidence in vaccines. Over 140,000 people ages 15 and older from more than 140 countries gave their views on the safety and efficacy of vaccinations as part of an almost two-year project funded by London-based biomedical research charity Wellcome Trust.

 

The results of the Wellcome Global Monitor, published on 19 June, suggest that 79% of people worldwide agree, to some extent, that vaccinations are safe, three quarters of the world’s population trust doctors and nurses more than anyone else on healthcare issues, and 72% trust scientists. The survey also shows a first glimpse into what people think about the issues for many countries, including Colombia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Vietnam.

Vaccine skepticism higher in high-income countries

Source: Wellcome Global Monitor [From Nature]

Only 72% in North America and 73% in Northern Europe said vaccines are safe, but the number even lower in Europe. Just half of those in Eastern Europe and 59% in Western Europe strongly or somewhat agreeing with the statement “vaccines are safe”. By contrast, two lower-income countries—Bangladesh and Rwanda—had the strongest confidence in vaccines (97% and 94%, respectively). The report said that was attributed to the two nations’ strong commitment to vaccines. The numbers remain high throughout South Asia and East Africa.

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For most parts of the world, higher confidence in health systems, governments, and scientists translated to high trust in vaccines, except for Europe, where the picture was more complicated, with respondents from France reporting the lowest levels of trust in vaccines: 33% of French respondents disagreed that vaccines are safe, and 10% disagree they are important for children to have. Countries with the highest percentage of parents saying they don’t vaccinate their children are China (9%), Austria (8%), and Japan (7%).

According to Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI the Vaccine Alliance, “The results of the Wellcome Global Monitor illustrates how vaccines have been a victim of their own success. Confidence is lowest in countries where the terrible impact of many vaccine-preventable diseases is no longer felt.”

About 1 in 5 (19%) felt they were “excluded” from the benefits of science and 57% of global respondent said they do not know much, if anything, about science.

Alongside learning science at school or college, confidence in national institutions such as the government, the military, and the judicial system are among the strongest factors that relate to trust in science.

The researchers also found a gender difference in people’s reports on their understanding of science, with men significantly more likely to report a good understanding level compared with women. The gender gap was greatest in Northern Europe and lowest in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, said “No matter how great your idea, how exciting your new treatment, or how robust your science, it must be accepted by the people who stand to benefit from it. Vaccines, for example, are one of our most powerful public health tools, and we need people to have confidence in them if they are to be most effective.”

Understanding the causes of low confidence is essential. We must now find ways to address people’s country / regional / vaccine-specific concerns and build trust. Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives but we are all at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases until everyone is convinced.