Vaccine scepticism rises in line with votes for populists: Study
The Guardian, UK: Scepticism about vaccines for children has risen across Europe in line with votes for populists, according to a new study, which proposes that public health officials should track populist parties in opinion polls as a proxy signal for vaccine hesitancy.
Big surges in measles cases and deaths map to countries where populist parties have become prominent – in particular, Greece, Italy and France.
The paper, in the European Journal of Public Health, says there is an underlying link between anti-establishment politics and vaccine hesitancy. “It seems likely that scientific populism is driven by similar feelings to political populism – ie profound distrust of elites and experts by disenfranchised and marginalised parts of the population,” writes the author, Jonathan Kennedy from Queen Mary University of London. As there is a lack of monitoring surveys of attitudes toward vaccines, the researchers argue the performance of populist parties could instead be used to alert public health bodies to rising levels of scepticism.
“Support for populist parties could be used as a proxy for vaccine hesitancy, at least in the western European context, with an increase in support being a signal for public health actors to be vigilant,” the paper says.
A Guardian investigation in December showed growing concern about the impact of populism on public confidence in vaccines, revealing that measles cases in Europe were at a 20-year high, with 60,000 cases and 72 deaths. The suspicions and rhetoric of anti-vaccination groups have been adopted by some populist politicians, for instance in Italy where the parliament last year passed a law to end compulsory vaccines for children in state schools. Shortly afterwards, the law was repealed because of the “emergency” caused by soaring measles cases.
The new study mapped findings from the Vaccine Confidence Project, carried out for the European commission, with votes for populist parties in 14 western European countries.
It found a strong correlation between votes for populist parties and doubts that vaccines work.