An interactive map has revealed how huge proportions of people do not think vaccines are safe, raising concerns about whether people would get a Covid-19 jab.
Researchers from the UK, US and Belgium compiled data from surveys of nearly 300,000 people in 149 countries to identify vaccine ‘hesitancy hotspots’.
They found that European countries were among the least trusting, with just one in five people in Lithuania and Albania agreeing vaccines are safe.
In Ukraine and Turkey, three quarters of the population believe jabs do some form of long-term damage to their health.
The UK has seen a rise in trust in the last year, but still only little over half (52 per cent) agree that jabs are safe.
In the US, Canada and Australia, more than 60 per cent of people had faith in Government vaccination programmes.
Scientists behind the research said scientists and public health experts around the world ‘needs to do much better at building public trust in the safety of vaccination’, particularly with the hope of a COVID-19 vaccine.
A vaccine is a hope politicians and scientists worldwide are pinning their plans on, with no signs that the coronavirus will go away until one is found.
The UK has seen trust rise in the last year, but still only little over half (52 per cent) agreed jabs were safe. In the US, Canada and Australia, more than 60 per cent of people had faith in Government vaccination programmes
Europe’s wariness of vaccines: Just one in five people in Lithuania and Albania agreeing vaccines are safe. In Ukraine, three quarters of the population believe jabs do some form of long-term damage to their health
The research was conducted by teams from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London, the University of Washington, and Antwerp University in Belgium.
The scientists analysed data from 290 nationally representative surveys conducted between September 2015 and December 2019.
Modelling was used to estimate trends in public perceptions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, and the importance of vaccinating children.
Poland was one of the countries in Europe which showed ‘significant losses’ in confidence in vaccine safety – a dip from 64 per cent strongly agreeing that vaccines are safe in November 2018 to 53 per cent by December 2019.
The researchers attribute the fall in confidence to ‘the growing impact of a highly organised local anti-vaccine movement’.
But they found confidence in vaccine safety to be increasing in other European countries alongside the UK, including Finland, France, Italy, and Ireland.
In France, confidence in vaccines rose from 22 per cent of those surveyed strongly agreeing that vaccines are safe in 2018, to 30 per cent in 2019.
In contrast, six countries, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Serbia, saw ‘substantial increases’ in people strongly disagreeing vaccines are safe.
In Azerbaijan, the proportion of those strongly disagreeing that vaccines are safe rose from 2 per cent in 2015 to 17 per cent in 2019.
Researchers described the decrease in confidence as a ‘worrying trend’, with negative attitudes mirroring political instability and religious extremism.
Indonesia, meanwhile, has seen one of the largest falls in public trust between 2015 and 2019 where the absolute difference in perception of safety fell by 14 per cent percentage points, the team said.
10 COUNTRIES WITH LEAST TRUST IN VACCINES
(PERCENTAGE OF POPULATIONS WHICH STRONGLY AGREE VACCINES ARE SAFE)
- Japan 17%
- Lithuania 18%
- Albania 19%
- Hong Kong 21%
- Russia 23%
- Taiwan 25.5%
- China 26%
- Ukraine 26%
- Turkey 27%
- Mongolia 27%
10 COUNTRIES WITH MOST TRUST IN VACCINES
(PERCENTAGE OF POPULATION WHICH STRONGLY AGREE VACCINES ARE SAFE)
- Uganda 87%
- Bangladesh 85%
- Liberia 83%
- Burundi 83%
- Namibia 83%
- India 82%
- Madagascar 81.5%
- Syria 81%
- Uzbekistan 81%
- Gambia 81%
They believe negative attitudes may have been partly triggered by Muslim leaders questioning the safety of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.
The findings, published in the prestigious journal The Lancet, also raise questions over people’s willingness to be given a Covid-19 vaccination should any of the candidates currently undergoing trials prove successful.
In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health.
As the race to find a Covid-19 vaccine continues, the authors said assessing public attitudes on a regular basis and taking swift action when confidence is declining ‘must be top priority to give the best chance to ensure uptake of new life-saving vaccines’.
Professor Heidi Larson, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the research, said: ‘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 optimise uptake of new life-saving vaccines.’
Professor Larson and her team are currently gathering data on the public’s attitudes towards a Covid-19 vaccine through surveys across the UK and worldwide.
She said initial figures show that willingness in the UK has been variable. ‘For instance, at the end of March in the UK it was only 5 per cent of the population – when the fatality rates were high – (who) said that they would not take a Covid-19 vaccine,’ she said.
‘(In) June that had gone up to about 15 per cent as people saw fatality rates dropping – because people are constantly weighing the imminent threat of the disease and the risk of a brand new vaccine so that’s going to be part of their decision criteria.’