More than 13 percent of Americans disagree with the statement that "vaccines are safe," according to a new study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. That puts America in the middle of the pack of 67 countries where researchers examined views towards immunizations in what they believe to be the largest survey on vaccine confidence to date.
Published last week in Ebiomedicine and based on surveys of 66,000 people, the findings show stark variations among countries. France took the lead of vaccine skeptics, with a staggering 41 percent of respondents disagreeing with the statement that vaccines are safe. Authors attribute the country's "extreme negative sentiment" to controversies over the past two decades around the unproven side effects of a range of vaccines, from hepatitis B to H1N1. (The hesitancy reflects what the French are hearing from their doctors: One in four general practitioners said that vaccines recommended by public health authorities aren't useful, according to a study last year.)
Meanwhile, in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, and Argentina, less than two percent of respondents were skeptical of vaccine safety.
Authors observed a counterintuitive finding: countries with higher education rates were generally more skeptical of vaccine safety, but within countries, more educated citizens were less skeptical. (Clusters of vocal vaccine skeptics in areas with a highly educated population—like California's Marin County and Boulder, Colordo—appear to be exceptions to this rule.) "Our research thus stresses the emerging shift away from access to vaccines as the primary barrier to vaccination in many countries," the authors write.