Covid Vaccines Face a Volatile World When It Comes to Trust


Radically different opinions around the world on the safety, effectiveness and importance of vaccines highlight the challenge facing health officials once a Covid-19 shot arrives.

In countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, Pakistan and Poland, confidence in vaccines has declined in recent years, according to a study published Thursday in The Lancet medical journal. Although support for inoculations in Europe remains low compared with other regions, there are signs that trust is rising in Finland, France, Italy, Ireland and the U.K., the report found.

The authors said they believe their research -- based on more than 284,000 adults surveyed in 149 countries between 2015 and 2019 -- is the largest effort to date to measure global faith in vaccines.

Political instability and religious extremism in several nations are fueling skepticism, while the spread of misinformation threatens to disrupt vaccination programs worldwide, the study found. Declining confidence can lead to delays and discourage people from getting shots, contributing to outbreaks of diseases including measles, polio and meningitis.

“It’s been very volatile,” Heidi Larson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who led the research, said in an interview. The report can help determine “where there’s going to be more trust-building and preparedness needed for Covid vaccines.”

The issue is playing out differently across the world.

The number of people strongly disagreeing that vaccines are safe rose significantly in six countries including Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Serbia, according to the findings. In the Philippines, concerns over a dengue vaccine triggered a sharp loss of confidence that also appeared to affect uptake of routine shots, according to the research.

Poland, France

In Poland, an organized anti-vaccine movement pushed the percentage of people strongly agreeing that shots are safe down to 53% in 2019 from 64% a year earlier, the authors wrote. Yet in France, where confidence in vaccines has been low, it surged to 30% from 22% in the same period.

Support has climbed in the U.S. with more people speaking out against the anti-vaccine movement, according to Larson. Still, as developers sprint to come up with a Covid-19 shot, new surveys have revealed hesitancy in the country and other parts of the globe. In a Gallup poll last month, about a third of Americans said they wouldn’t get a vaccine when it became available.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams earlier this week flagged the importance of working with the faith community, celebrities, social media influencers and doctors. He said he’d already been in conversations with Lady Gaga, T.I. and Kylie Jenner about campaigns to promote vaccination.

“Without substantial global investment in active vaccine safety surveillance, continuous monitoring of public perceptions, and development of rapid and flexible communication strategies, there is a risk of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines never reaching their potential,” Daniel Salmon, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health professor, wrote in an article accompanying the study.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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