Health

Europes populist contagion

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Europe knows it has a vaccine problem — its just not sure how to fix it.

A combination of deep-rooted social and political forces, including the rise of populism and a loss of trust in institutions, is fueling the resurgence of infectious diseases across Europe, according to experts.

As a new EU survey revealed nearly half of Europes population believes false claims about vaccines, European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen called the trend “worrisome” in a briefing with reporters.

With measles on the rise across the bloc, Brussels has taken a scattergun approach in trying to nudge countries to align vaccination schedules, clamp down on misinformation and improve vaccine availability.

Yet while people understand that vaccines are important, according to the Eurobarometer poll released Friday, a majority in more than 16 countries say vaccines are often linked to serious side effects, and more than a third of people say vaccines can cause the disease against which they protect — both of which are untrue.

“Were dealing with whole belief systems about the way the world operates in general and the role that elites and experts play in the world” — Jonathan Kennedy, university lecturer

All the while, politicians running on anti-establishment platforms opposed to mandatory vaccinations, and in some cases stoking fears on the dangers of jabs, continue to gain support.

“Were not dealing with peoples misconceptions about vaccines. Were dealing with whole belief systems about the way the world operates in general and the role that elites and experts play in the world,” said Jonathan Kennedy, a lecturer in global health at Queen Mary University of London, who has tracked the link between the rise in populism and vaccine hesitancy.

“Unless these bigger political and economic factors are addressed, unless these people feel like they have a stake in society, then I think its pretty hard to think how their views can be countered,” Kennedy said.

As governments including France and Italy celebrate the success of mandatory jab programs in raising coverage rates, the poll indicates thats doing little to combat misinformation. In France, 60 percent of people incorrectly believe vaccines often cause serious side effects — the fourth highest result among EU countries behind Cyprus, Croatia and Malta.

With measles on the rise across the bloc, Brussels has taken a scattergun approach in trying to nudge countries to align vaccination schedules, clamp down on misinformation and improve vaccine availability | Jasper Jacobs/AFP via Getty Images

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Emilie Karafillakis, a research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored a report for the Commission on vaccine confidence, said concerns in France are linked to a “general mistrust of health authorities” as well as cultural barriers such as the popularity of homeopaths who may not support vaccination. She also pointed to difficulties for parents who do want to get their kids vaccinated, but run up against issues in navigating the complexities of the health system.

After Paris increased the number of compulsory vaccinations in 2018, preliminary data from the health ministry showed immunization rates increased as a result.

Members of the far-right National Rally had opposed the policy, arguing people should have the right to make their own decisions on health care.

In the U.K., where public health policies pushing vaccination have been pursued strongly since the discrediting of British doctor Andrew Wakefields claims linking the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) jab with autism, 54 percent of people still believe vaccines often cause serious side effects.

National Health Service chief Simon Stevens on Thursday warned public rejection of vaccines is a “growing public health time bomb” after a UNICEF study recorded more than 500,000 children in the U.K. did not receive the measles jab between 2010 and 2017.

While experts caveat the overall risk of measles is still low, European health authorities note that “large outbreaks with fatalities are ongoing in countries that had previously eliminated or interrupted endemic transmission.” There were more than 12,000 measles cases 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 have prompted the health ministry to promise a plan for vaccination by May.

The fact that measles is so highly infectious means it is usually the first contagious disease to emerge among unvaccinated kids.

Online noise

“Theres growing evidence that some organizations are using the vaccine issue as a means to sow distrust in democratic institutions,” said Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicines. A study in the U.S. found Russian bots sent out both pro- and anti-vaccine messages to generate confusion in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election.

Thats amplifying a “problem with scientific literacy generally” in Europe, McKee said.

While the majority of people turn to their doctors for information about vaccines, around 20 percent of people said they consult internet sites and social media.

“One of the issues is that an awful lot of these messages are quite subliminal,” McKee said. “Its all about creating a climate and people may not know actRead More – Source