New study: Most Europeans trust vaccines

Gary Finnegan

Gary Finnegan

December 7th, 2022

Gary Finnegan

‘EU survey shows vaccine confidence returning to pre-pandemic levels, as health ministers meet to consider establishing an Expert Group on Vaccine Hesitancy’

A new report on the level of public confidence in vaccines among Europeans shows a strong majority believe vaccines are important, effective and safe. The study, the third of its kind conducted by the Vaccine Confidence Project for the European Commission since 2018, also reveals a worrying age gap, with younger people becoming less confident over time.

Key findings

  • Vaccine confidence in 2022 is lower than in 2020, but similar to 2018
  • >90% of healthcare professionals believe vaccines are safe, except in France, Greece and Austria
  • Overall confidence is highest in Portugal and Spain; lowest in Slovakia and Latvia
  • Steep declines in vaccine confidence in Eastern and Central Europe, the Baltics, and the Netherlands
  • The MMR vaccine is considered to be the most important in 2022, followed by COVID-19, seasonal influenza, and HPV vaccines.

The wide ranging study includes detailed fact sheets for each of the 27 countries included in the report. Taken together, the data from more than 25,000 interviews show that 81.5% of respondents agree that vaccines are important, 85.6% agree they are effective and 82.3% agree that they are safe. This is a decline on the 2020 results, based on interviews conducted in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when the public view of vaccines was particularly positive.

The researchers highlighted a growing ‘vaccine confidence gap’ between people over 65 years of age and those in the 18-34 age group. ‘While vaccination confidence levels seem to have reverted to pre-pandemic (2018) levels after an increase in 2020, there also appears to be an increasing vaccine confidence age gap between old and young,’ said Dr Alex De Figueiredo, Statistics Lead at the Vaccine Confidence Project.

Grandfather and granddaughter watching something on a mobile phone together
Younger people have grown more vaccine hesitant over time

The younger cohort has become less confident between 2018 and 2022, while older people’s views have been steady in most countries. The age gap is particularly strong in Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, and the Netherlands.

Policymakers are currently assessing how to respond to the new phase of the pandemic ‒ one in which global vaccine uptake has slipped in some countries and where COVID-19 vaccines must be integrated into routine immunisation programmes. Globally, millions of children missed out on their basic vaccines last year while, in Europe, there is concern that children in some communities are ‘under-vaccinated’.

‘Given global declines in uptake rates of routine immunisations induced by the pandemic, we need to understand how the pandemic and associated policies have impacted confidence among young people and the potential consequences for uptake of childhood immunisations,’ said Professor Heidi Larson, Director of the Vaccine Confidence Project.

European Commissioner for Health and Food safety, Stella Kyriakides, said the report underlines the speed at which confidence can change and the many factors that can influence it. ‘Gains in vaccine confidence prior to the pandemic were the result of a concerted effort in the EU, she said. ‘We must learn lessons from the pandemic and join forces to understand the barriers so that we can close vaccination gaps.’

A healthcare worker is helping a patient with physical therapy
Healthcare workers are trusted sources of information on vaccine decisions

The Vaccine Confidence reports are one part of EU efforts to improve vaccine uptake which follow a 2018 agreement by health ministers. The EU also supports the European Vaccination Information Portal which is expected to receive extra investment, and the Coalition for Vaccination, a group of healthcare professional associations.

Given the mixed levels of support for some vaccines among healthcare workers in several countries ‒ including some hesitancy about recommending flu and COVID-19 vaccines to pregnant women ‒ there may be an enhanced role for professional societies in addressing myths among those with most influence over the general public.

Meanwhile, EU Health Ministers are scheduled to meet on 9 December to finalise a new resolution on vaccination. The agreement is likely to focus on life-course immunisation, and on vaccines for adults in particular. In addition, it is expected that ministers will put a strong focus on tackling misinformation and disinformation, as well as further measures to address trust in vaccines. One of the proposals that has been circulated among governments would see an EU Expert Group on Vaccine Hesitancy tasked with providing advice on how to boost vaccine uptake.