The UK has more confidence in vaccines than many other parts of Europe but is in a ‘vulnerable’ position as social media amplifies anxieties and mistrust, experts have warned.
A global study of attitudes towards science by the Wellcome Trust found that only 59% of people in Western Europe think vaccines are safe compared with a figure of 79% worldwide.
The Wellcome Global Monitor Survey which asked 140,000 respondents worldwide for their views found a clear link between people’s trust of doctors, nurses and scientists and their confidence in vaccines.
In the UK, almost nine in ten people said they thought it was important that children were vaccinated
And 75% of people in the UK said they strongly or somewhat believed that vaccines were safe – similar to the figures for other countries in northern Europe – with 86% saying they thought they were effective.
The reason for higher levels of confidence compared with some other countries in Europe may be that 90% of UK respondents said they would trust a doctor or nurse most on medical or health advice.
France, where there have been several outbreaks of measles, seemed to have the least confidence, where the survey found the highest level of distrust of vaccines of any country at 33%.
A report from Unicef in April estimated that half a million children in the UK missed out on their first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2017.
It followed a study from the Royal Society for Public Health which found fear of side effects was the main reason people choose not to get vaccinated.
Dr Heidi Larson, the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said social media was amplifying anxieties. While confidence in vaccines in the UK was higher than in some other parts of Europe, ‘where the UK is now I would say is vulnerable,’ she said explaining that misinformation on vaccines online was hard to combat because it was often not public.
Dr Larson said while the UK was generally doing better than other parts of Europe, she still had concerns.
‘I don’t think we have an emergency today, but I want to anticipate where we are going,’ she said. ‘Trends are important. We need confidence building and information targeted at the younger generation.’
In May, the training provider PharmaDoctor announced it was letting all community pharmacies pre-order its free measles patient group direction (PGD), allowing them to offer private measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines.
This story was originally published by our sister title Pulse