Thursday 17 October 2019

Irish people have less trust in vaccines than the global average

  • New report shows 74pc of people in Ireland believe vaccines are safe, less than global average
  • 1 in 3 French people disagree that vaccines are safe
  • People from high-income countries less likely to agree that vaccines are safe compared to people in low-income countries
Financial incentives have been found to be one of the ways to improve the uptake of childhood vaccines, a conference in Dublin has been told. Stock picture
Financial incentives have been found to be one of the ways to improve the uptake of childhood vaccines, a conference in Dublin has been told. Stock picture

Áine Kenny

A new study has revealed that Irish people are less likely to agree vaccines are safe than the global average.

Of the Irish people who were surveyed, 74pc agreed that vaccines were safe. The global average for trust in safety of vaccines is 79pc, according to the same study.

Fifty-one per cent of Irish people said they strongly agreed vaccines were safe, and another 23pc said they "somewhat agree" vaccines are safe.

However, the majority of Irish respondents who were parents reported they vaccinated their children. More than 90pc also agreed that "vaccines are important for children to have".

The survey also revealed that people in high-income regions are less likely to agree that vaccines are safe, compared to people in low-income regions.

In North America 72pc of people agreed vaccines were safe while that figure was marginally higher, at 73pc, for Northern Europe.

This figure drops dramatically in the rest of Europe. Only 59pc of people surveyed in Western Europe agreed vaccines were safe. Attitudes towards vaccine safety are particularly negative in Eastern Europe, with only half of people surveyed agreeing vaccines are safe.

Previously, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said it is "irresponsible" to send unvaccinated children to school and he is seeking the advice of the attorney general on the issue of a mandatory programme of immunisation.

It comes amid growing rates of diseases like measles around the world.

Mr Harris previously said he "instinctively" agrees with the suggestion unvaccinated children should be excluded from schools or crèches. This has happened in New York and Italy.

READ MORE: Harris considers legal move to make vaccination mandatory for children

In France one in three people surveyed did not believe vaccines were safe. This was the highest of any country in the world. This scepticism is present in all sectors of French society and does not vary by age, location or gender.

Contrastingly, South Asia had the highest belief in vaccine safety, with 95pc of people believing that vaccines are safe.

The study also analysed people's perceptions of vaccine effectiveness, and found that "scepticism about vaccine safety does not always translate into scepticism about vaccine effectiveness".

For example in Western Europe, 59pc of people said they believed vaccines were safe, but 77pc believed they were effective.

According to the researchers, this gap suggests that some people accept that vaccines are effective at preventing certain diseases, even if they also believe they may have negative side-effects.

Education is also not a factor in people's attitudes towards vaccines. According to Wellcome Trust, "there is no obvious global relationship between levels of science education and vaccine confidence. In some places – like Northern Europe and Northern America – people with higher levels of science education are less likely to either strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that vaccines are safe".

People who trust a doctor or nurse more than any other source of information, such as friends, family, religious leaders, and traditional healers are more likely to agree that vaccines are safe.

The new study was conducted by Wellcome Trust, a UK-based biomedical research charity.

"All vaccines have undergone rigorous studies to ensure that they are safe and effective before they are licensed. They are continually monitored by medicine regulatory authorities in Ireland, Europe and by the World Health Organization," said the HSE in a statement to Independent.ie.

"Most vaccine reactions are minor. Serious side effects occur rarely and are immediately investigated. Vaccine-preventable diseases are far more likely to harm than the vaccine developed to prevent it," the HSE continiued.

"Vaccine preventable diseases still occur in Ireland and abroad. People can be exposed to these serious diseases and may become ill if not vaccinated. Young babies are particularly vulnerable from infectious diseases and so they should be vaccinated as soon as they are eligible, to protect them."

The HSE cautioned against the anti-vax movement which is growing in popularity: "If vaccine rates fall in Ireland then the diseases that have become very rare due to vaccination may recur. We have already seen cases of measles that were brought to Ireland from other countries.

"High coverage of vaccines are really important to prevent this spread and therefore protect individuals, and also those who are too young to be vaccinated or people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons," they concluded.

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