Does vaccine skepticism affect immunization rates?

Does vaccine skepticism affect immunization rates?

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Does vaccine skepticism affect immunization rates?

Believe it or not, vaccination is still a controversial issue in many countries. Despite the scientific consensus that vaccines pose no risk to human health, some parents are still skeptical regarding their safety and effects, leading some of them to avoid vaccinating their children often based on pseudo-scientific arguments.

Our World in Data recently released a series of articles that shed light on this issue on a global basis. In general, attitudes towards vaccines are positive: 92 percent of respondents are aware of the importance of vaccinating kids. Interestingly, support for vaccination is lower in developed regions like North America or Western Europe than in South Asia or Northern Africa.

Results are similar when the question is whether vaccines are safe, with only 7 percent of respondents disagreeing. Yet percentages are surprisingly high in France (33 percent), Switzerland (22 percent), or Austria (21 percent). The high level of mistrust towards vaccines in these three educated developed countries seems to contradict the idea that anti-vaccine sentiment always results from a lack of access to reliable information about vaccines.

Finally, vaccines are considered effective by 95 percent of the world population, although results vary substantially from country to country. Again, France stands out over the rest: 18 percent of the French population disagree on the effectiveness of vaccines.

What shapes people’s perceptions towards vaccination? Being exposed to unscientific arguments (especially if these aren’t rebutted) plays an important role in this respect: more exposure leads to negative views on vaccination.

Fortunately, perceptions seem not to have a substantial impact on immunization rates. The graph below shows at most a weak relationship between the share of the population that are skeptic about the safety of vaccines and vaccination rates against diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus. The same happens when using immunization rates for measles. This might be explained by the fact that vaccination is compulsory in most countries; hence anti-vaccine parents think twice before refusing to have their children vaccinated.

Samantha Vanderslott (2019) – “Skepticism to vaccines and what to do about it”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/vaccine-skepticism’ [Online Resource]

Although global vaccination coverage has gone up dramatically since the 1980s, some regions are still experiencing serious public health problems due to vaccine preventable diseases. What can we do to increase vaccination rates all over the world?

Economic growth helps. Developed countries tend to have higher immunization rates than developing regions. Mandatory vaccination laws are also important to avoid the spread of contagious diseases. We must not forget that refusing vaccination imposes negative externalities on third parties (e.g., infants who cannot yet be vaccinated or immunocompromised people) and endangers the health of children, who cannot make an autonomous decision on this issue until they turn 18.

In any case, we shouldn’t lose sight of the great progress we have achieved over the last four decades. Only acknowledging this will we continue advancing in the eradication of diseases that not so long ago represented an almost certain death sentence for millions of people all over the world.

 

Luis Pablo de la Horra

Luis Pablo de la Horra
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