Europe knows it has a vaccine problem – it's not sure how to fix it.
A combination of deep-rooted political and social forces, including the rise of populism and a loss of confidence in institutions, is fueling the resurgence of infectious diseases across Europe, according to experts.
While a new European Union survey revealed that nearly half of Europe's population believes false allegations about vaccines, European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen called the trend "troubling" in a news conference with reporters.
With measles growing throughout the bloc, Brussels has adopted a scatter approach in an effort to encourage countries to align vaccination schedules, curb misinformation, and improve vaccine availability.
Although people understand that vaccines are important, according to the Eurobarometer survey released on Friday, a majority in more than 16 countries says vaccines are often associated with serious side effects and more than a third of people say vaccines can cause the disease. protect – both are false.
"We are dealing with complete belief systems about how the world operates in general and the role that elites and specialists play in the world" – Jonathan Kennedy, university professor
Meanwhile, politicians who act on anti-establishment platforms, who are opposed to mandatory vaccinations and in some cases harbor fears about the dangers of coups, continue to gain support.
"We are not dealing with people's misconceptions about vaccines. We are dealing with entire belief systems about how the world operates in general and the role that elites and specialists play in the world," said Jonathan Kennedy, professor of global health at the University Queen Mary of London, who accompanied the link between the rise of populism and hesitant hesitation.
"Unless these larger political and economic factors are addressed, unless these people feel they have an interest in society, I think it's very difficult to think about how their views can be circumvented," Kennedy said.
While governments, including France and Italy, celebrate the success of mandatory jab programs in raising coverage rates, research indicates that it is doing little to combat misinformation. In France, 60% of people mistakenly believe that vaccines generally cause serious side effects – the fourth largest result among EU countries, behind Cyprus, Croatia and Malta.
Emilie Karafillakis, a researcher at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, co-authored a report to the Commission on vaccine safety, said concerns in France are linked to "general distrust of health authorities" as well as cultural barriers. such as the popularity of homeopaths who may not support vaccination. She also pointed out difficulties for parents who want to vaccinate their children, but face problems in dealing with the complexities of the health system.
After Paris increased the number of compulsory vaccines in 2018, preliminary data from the Ministry of Health showed that immunization rates increased as a result.
Members of the far-right National Rally opposed the policy, arguing that people should have the right to make their own decisions about health care.
In the United Kingdom, where public health policies driving vaccination have been heavily pursued since discrediting the claims of British physician Andrew Wakefield, linking MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) with autism, 54 percent still believe that vaccines often cause serious side effects.
The head of the National Health Service, Simon Stevens, warned on Thursday that public rejection of vaccines is "growing public health." Time pump"After a UNICEF study enrolled more than 500,000 children in the UK, it did not receive measles jab between 2010 and 2017.
Although experts are aware that the overall risk of measles is still low, European health authorities note that "large outbreaks of fatalities are ongoing in countries that have previously eliminated or stopped endemic transmission." There were more than 12,000 cases of measles in the European Economic Area last year. and significant increases in France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Bulgaria and Ireland in 2019. Outbreaks in Germany prompted the Ministry of Health to promise a vaccination plan in May.
The fact that measles is so highly infectious means that it is usually the first contagious disease to occur among unvaccinated children.
"There is growing evidence that some organizations are using the issue of vaccines as a means of sowing mistrust in democratic institutions," said Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. A study in the US found that Russian bots sent pro and anti-vaccine messages to create confusion in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
This is broadening a "problem with scientific literacy in general" in Europe, McKee said.
While most people turn to their doctors for information about vaccinations, about 20% of people said they look at internet sites and social media.
"One of the issues is that many of these messages are quite subliminal," McKee said. "It's all about creating a climate and people may not really know where they saw something, but there's so much of it floating that it changes the nature of the debate."
Platforms like Facebook and YouTube make it "very easy to disseminate false information," said Raegan MacDonald, Mozilla's director of public policy at an event in Brussels on Thursday.
Considering that social media platforms raison d'être is to keep people engaged, "the most sensational content essentially can and will become viral," said MacDonald. "This is how success is measured, not what is real, what is scientifically proven, what is solid information."
Several platforms have recently pledged to stop promoting anti-vaccine content and UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock plans to meet with social media companies this week to discuss how to prevent the spread of anti-vaxx messages online.
Katainen said the Commission is also paying attention, although its efforts at misinformation focus on political messages before the European election. The Commission is working to develop an online vaccine information portal with the European Medicines Agency and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control to "monitor online vaccination information," a spokesman said.
In the Czech Republic, only two-thirds of doctors say the measles vaccine is safe and only about three-quarters in Slovakia.
But Katainen also acknowledged that "there is no magic wand" or "simple way" to correct it.
Although 65 percent of Eurobarometer respondents said their doctor is the most reliable source of information on vaccines, a Commission study published last year showed that in many countries doctors are also not in the message.
In the Czech Republic, only two-thirds of doctors say the measles vaccine is safe and only about three-quarters in Slovakia. In Italy and Estonia, about 20% of doctors disagreed that vaccines are compatible with religious beliefs; in Poland, that number was almost 30%.
Robb Butler, a senior social scientist working on UNICEF vaccine demand, said he heard recently from a doctor in Sweden complaining that medical students receive only about 40 minutes of immunization and immunization training during the Brussels event on Thursday -market.
"That's shocking," Butler said. "They are still our most reliable source of information, and we are letting them down early in their careers."
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.