48 percent of Europeans believe false claims on vaccines: poll

Nearly half the people in Europe believe — incorrectly — that vaccines often cause severe side effects, according to an EU-wide poll released on Friday.

The Eurobarometer survey found 88 percent of people agree vaccines are important to protect themselves and others. But a relative majority said vaccines are often linked to serious adverse reactions — a statement disproved by scientific evidence.

In total, 48 percent of people surveyed agreed with the false statement, compared with 41 percent of people who said they dont. In 16 countries that figure was at least 50 percent, including in France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and Romania.

Over a third of the 27,524 people polled said vaccines can cause the disease against which they protect, which is also incorrect. (Some vaccines like the flu shot are linked to mild symptoms that resemble the infectious virus.)

The results illustrate the scale of the challenge to ensure Europeans have correct information on vaccines as infectious diseases such as measles make a resurgence across the Continent.

Countries such as Italy and France have increased the number of compulsory shots in recent years.

“The vaccination coverage is decreasing and diseases are increasing and this is a risk for public health and security,” European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen said in a press briefing. The Commission warned in October that Europe is the region with the lowest level of vaccine confidence in the world.

More than 12,000 cases of measles were reported in the European Economic Area and 35 people died last year, Katainen said, yet fewer than 40 percent of people surveyed were aware that measles is still a cause of death in the EU.

Countries such as Italy and France have increased the number of compulsory shots in recent years, while others such as Germany are debating whether to make measles jabs mandatory.

While vaccines may cause some mild side effects, such as a fever or local swelling at the jab site, “more severe reactions are very rare,” according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Experts say the potential for fatalities or long-lasting health effects from vaccine-preventable diseases greatly outweigh the risks.

Yet a relative majority of people in five countries — Belgium, France, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Malta — still believe that vaccines can cause the disease against which they protect, according to the new poll.

The survey showed people do not doubt the effectiveness of vaccines: 85 percent agreed that vaccines can be effective in preventing infectious diseases.

But more than a third of people that have not received a shot in the past five years said that was because they “did not see the need to be vaccinated.” For some vaccinations, such as tetanus and diphtheria, adults are recommended to get booster shots every 10 years.

Thirty-eight percent of those polled said vaccination programs should be coordinated at the national level.

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