Back in 2015, Liberia was among the highest-ranked countries in the world with citizens who said they think vaccines are safe, while Ethiopia was atop the list of those whose people said vaccines were important. Morocco, conversely, was among the lowest on both measures.
But now, at a time when scientists are desperately seeking a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 and counting on communities to trust in the solutions they develop, a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet finds that confidence is eroded in many countries. The study compares the 2015 results with surveys completed in 2019.
Six countries, including Nigeria, show significant drops in the respondents who view vaccines as safe, and the results show the complexities in what World Health Organization has made a priority: vaccine hesitancy.
“The findings of declining confidence in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Nigeria mirror trends in political instability and religious extremism in these settings,” the authors from the Vaccine Confidence Project note.
“Over the past few years in Pakistan and Nigeria, new waves of misinformation surrounding the polio vaccine have been circulating and have led to recent increases in poliovirus cases in both countries,” they add. “Further research should investigate the link between political polarization, religious extremism, and populism and vaccination beliefs to better understand these complex ties.”
In a separate commentary on this research, scientists from Johns Hopkins University in the United States acknowledge the importance of understanding vaccine confidence and what influences it at the local level.
“People worldwide now eagerly await a (COVID) vaccine,” they said.
“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 due to a continued inability to quickly and effectively respond to public vaccine safety concerns, real or otherwise.”
Image: UNICEF DRC file