A new global study says public confidence in life-saving vaccines is worryingly low in some parts of the world. Research by the British health charity, the Wellcome Trust, says confidence is much higher in developing countries.
Although scientific evidence shows vaccination is the best defense against deadly infections, global vaccination rates have stalled. Cases of one of the most infectious diseases, measles, have soared.
The World Health Organization lists vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health. Anu Anand recently discussed the issues with Dr. Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the Wellcome Trust.
Charlie Weller: Nine out of 10 parents globally said that they were getting their children vaccinated, and that’s fantastic. But if you look at some countries, and some people, they’re much more skeptical and the vaccination rates are much lower. And this is where we need to focus our efforts.
Anu Anand: France was a country that had the least faith in vaccines. The U.S. is also in there, and in Eastern Europe just 50% of people believe vaccines are safe. Is there any indication as to why?
Charlie Weller: I think one key element is the fact that we don’t see polio, we don’t see diphtheria, we don’t see measles … until very recently. And therefore, we forget that they are an issue, we forget how devastating these diseases can be, how terrible they can be. And therefore we’ve become maybe a little bit complacent, and forget how amazing vaccines are. And the fact that vaccines have prevented so many diseases and impacted so many lives.
Anu Anand: Do you think social media plays a role?
Charlie Weller: There is so much more information out there and there’s so many different avenues that people can go to to find this information. So we need to make sure that the information that’s out there is accurate.
Anu Anand: And there is a cost to all of this. Studies have estimated that it’s thousands of dollars for a single [measles] case, depending on the circumstances. In one case, $4 billion was the estimate for an outbreak [of measles] in the worst case scenario. Vaccines, how much do they cost?
Charlie Weller: Much less. Not just does a vaccine protect the individual, but it can protect the community. But also if you imagine that if you’re ill, you’re in hospital, you’re suffering and your family’s looking after you, that’s a whole family that isn’t working, potentially. Each country, each community will have different drivers and we know hesitancy can be political, it can be cultural, it can be religious. There are many different reasons, so we need to understand more.