Health and Healthcare Systems

Vaccines work. But the public isn't always convinced

A child is given an injection as part of a malaria vaccine trial at a clinic in the Kenya coastal town of Kilifi, November 23, 2010. Malaria threatens half the people on the planet and kills around 800,000 people a year, many of them too young to have even learned to walk. The death rate has come down in the last decade, but full-scale eradication will cost billions and drag funds away from other equally, or possibly even more urgent health efforts. As governments in poor countries and donors from wealthy ones weigh up where to put their money, experts have begun a quiet but fundamental debate about whether wiping out malaria is realistic or even makes economic sense. Picture taken November 23, 2010. To match Special Report MALARIA/COST     REUTERS/Joseph Okanga (KENYA - Tags: BUSINESS HEALTH) - RTXVPMI

From suspicions about safety to religious objections. Image: REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

Keith Breene
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Vaccines have developed something of a PR problem in many places.

From suspicions about safety to religious objections, a vital medical advance, which scientific consensus regards as a universally good idea, has run into some serious opposition around the world.

The extent of the problem has been highlighted by new research which shows the results of a large international survey into attitudes towards vaccines. In all, 66,000 people in 67 countries were asked about vaccines and their thoughts on vaccine safety, effectiveness and compatibility with religious beliefs.

Now, the Scientific American has taken the data from the study and created a series of maps showing where attitudes are most negative and why.

Safety concerns

Image: Scientific American

France stands out as the most sceptical nation when it comes to safety, but it is far from alone. Russia shows strong reservations while the United States, China, Italy and Greece are close behind.

There is still significant worry among the populations of Australia, Canada, India and much of South America and Western Europe.

Doubts about effectiveness

Image: Scientific American

For many the worry is not about safety – they simply do not believe vaccines work. Russia and France are both shown to be sceptical with lower levels of concern evident right across the world.

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Religious belief

Image: Scientific American

When it comes to religious beliefs, a conflict seems to emerge in Southeast Asia and Mongolia. Whereas the public seemingly has little doubt as to the safety or effectiveness of vaccines, may eschew them on religious grounds.

As the lead author of the study, Heidi Larson, points out, “Public trust in immunization is an increasingly important global health issue. Losses in confidence in vaccines and immunization programs can lead to vaccine reluctance and refusal, risking disease outbreaks and challenging immunization goals in high- and low-income settings.”

General disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion on the part of the World Economic Forum concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

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