Confidence in the safety of vaccines in Europe is lowest among all regions in the world, according to a new report released by the Wellcome Trust. The report, Wellcome Global Monitor 2018, finds that while vaccine confidence in the UK is higher than the European average, only three in four (75%) agree that ‘vaccines are safe’. In France, the proportion believing vaccines to be unsafe is as high as one in three (33%), while one in five believe them to be ineffective (19%).

The report also finds that:

  • Worldwide, 79% of people agree that vaccines are safe and 84% agree that they are effective.

  • In high-income regions, there is less certainty about the safety of vaccines, with 72% of people in Northern America and 73% in Northern Europe agreeing that vaccines are safe.

  • In Western Europe this figure is even lower, at 59%, and in Eastern Europe it stands at only 40%.

  • People who had recently sought information about science, medicine or health were less likely to agree that vaccines are safe than those who had not.

  • Those who trust a doctor or nurse over other information sources are more likely to agree that vaccines are safe.

The report also points to the potential impact that the “spread” of misinformation across social media could have on public confidence in vaccines. This comes after the release earlier this year of the government’s Online Harms White Paper, which outlines plans for a new regulatory framework for online safety, including establishing a duty of care on social platforms to limit the spread of misinformation on their platforms. In Moving the Needle, a recent RSPH report looking at public attitudes to immunisation in the UK, it was revealed that two in five parents are exposed to negative messages about vaccines on social media.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for Public Health said: “This new report from the Wellcome Trust echoes many of the findings of our own research into attitudes towards vaccinations in the UK. The majority of people have trust in our healthcare professionals and the effectiveness of vaccines, and we can be grateful that vaccine coverage in this country ranks among the highest in the world.

However, the low rates of confidence in vaccines in neighbouring France are a stark warning of the dangers of complacency. The evidence that vaccinations are a safe and remarkably effective defence against deadly disease is overwhelming, and it is the responsibility of the Government, health professionals and the international media to ensure this message continues to resonate with the public. The challenge of misinformation on social media, in particular, needs to be taken head on and countered with public education, and tech companies must do their part to support this work.”