Public confidence in vaccines is growing in the UK and most of Europe, while people in other parts of the world are more doubtful, according to new research.
The study of “hesitancy hotspots” is thought to be the largest of its kind, based on data from more than 284,000 adults in 149 countries.
It showed that vaccine confidence in the UK rose from 47% in May 2018 to 52% in November last year.
However, countries experiencing political instability and religious extremism were more likely to see scepticism over the safety of vaccines.
People in Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Pakistan all showed less confidence in the importance, safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
It comes as fears grow that, even if a COVID-19 vaccine is proved to be safe and effective, the number of people happy to be vaccinated might be low.
The authors of the study, published in The Lancet, said assessing public attitudes regularly and taking 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 more recent figures show that willingness in the UK has been variable.
“For instance, at the end of March in the UK it was only 5% 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% 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.”
The study also found
- Poland saw a fall from 64% strongly agreeing vaccines are safe in November 2018 to 53% in December 2019, a decline attributed to a “highly-organised local anti vaccine movement”
- France saw confidence rise from 22% in 2018 to 30% in 2019
- The proportion of people strongly agreeing that vaccines are safe was 19% in Lithuania and 66% in Finland
- Iraq, Liberia and Senegal had the highest proportion of respondents in 2019 who agreed vaccines are important
- Confidence also increased in Italy and Ireland
- In Azerbaijan, the proportion of those strongly disagreeing that vaccines are safe rose from 2% in 2015 to 17% in 2019
- Indonesia saw one of the largest falls in public trust between 2015 and 2019 down by 14% percentage points, partly attributed to Muslim leaders questioning the safety of the MMR jab
Prof Larson said: “Perceptions about vaccines are much more volatile than they used to be.
“Overall, there’s a lot of confidence in the world about vaccines. But don’t take it for granted. Confidence goes up and down … it’s highly variable.
“There’s a lot of anxiety about the speed of vaccine development (for COVID-19), but the public is not really keen on speed – they’re more keen on thoroughness, effectiveness and safety.”
In 2019, the World Health Organisation declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health.