People living in higher-income regions with access to information on health care are among the most sceptical on the benefits of vaccines, according to a new survey. The study by the Wellcome Trust surveyed 140,000 in 140 countries, and found that overall 79% of respondents agreed that vaccines were safe. But there were some interesting disparities.
In lower income regions, respondents were more like to trust vaccines. In South Asia, the figure was 95%, and in Eastern Africa. But the figure was 59% in Western Europe and 50% in Eastern Europe. The issue has gained urgency in recent years, as diseases such as measles have staged a resurgence, thanks to parents opting not to vaccinate children. The US has seen an outbreak this year with almost 1,000 cases confirmed.
‘Vaccine hesitancy has the potential, at least in some places, to really hinder the very real progress the world has made in controlling vaccine-preventable diseases,’ said Dr Ann Lindstrand, Coordinator of the WHO Expanded Programme on Immunisation. ‘Any resurgence we see in these diseases are an unacceptable step backwards.’
The report found that people in higher income countries who have more access to information are the cohort most resistant to official medical advice on vaccination. Some experts have attributed this to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which a small amount of information on a subject makes people feel more confident than they should in their own judgement. In the case of resistance to MMR vaccine, commented Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confiidence Project at the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygeine. This often takes the form of absorbing various pieces of fake news and conspiracy theories from the internet.
‘Social media is highly volatile and has totally changed the landscape,’ said Professor Larson. ‘It doesn’t take too much to disrupt herd immunity, just a concentrated small group of dissenters.’