French most distrustful in world about vaccines

11 vaccinations are now obligatory vaccinations for French children
11 vaccinations are now obligatory vaccinations for French children TEK IMAGE via Getty Images

One third of French people do not believe vaccines are safe, according to a new survey, which also finds that the French are the most sceptical country in the world about vaccines.


140,000 people over the age of 15 were questioned in 144 countries last year, in a survey conducted by Gallup for the British non-governmental research organisation, the Wellcome Trust.

Ten percent of French respondents did not feel it was important to vaccinate children and only 19 percent felt that vaccines were effective.

Professor Heidi Larson of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who directed the project, puts the high level of distrust in France down to an "accumulation of past issues that provoked a breakdown of trust".

She cites in particular the HIV-tainted blood scandal in the 1980s and in 2009 a feeling that the government bought too many doses of the the vaccine against the h1n1 flu virus.

Confidence in vaccines might also be relatively low in France and elsewhere because of a sort of complacency, according to Professor Odile Launay of the Cochin Pasteur Centre of Clinical Investigation in Paris. Smallpox has been eradicated after widespread use of vaccines, and polio is close to being eliminated.

She suggests that people perhaps no longer see the need for vaccinations and focus on the potential risks - and she stresses that it’s important to communicate to parents that any such risks are minimal.

Multiple vaccines more efficient

Some parents worry that multiple vaccines given in one single jab might be too much for a baby’s system but Professor Helen Bedford of Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health in London points out that “every day, literally from the day you are born, you are bombarded with lots and lots of different antigens” (the key elements in vaccines). She says the body is “very well equipped to deal with multiple antigens at one time” and that combining several vaccines in one single jab means parents don’t have to come to vaccination clinics multiple times in the first 2 years.

Despite the declared scepticism of the French, vaccine uptake is on the rise in France. Professor Larson says the French authorities took action after the previous global survey, conducted in 2015, when confidence in vaccines among the French was even lower (41 per cent disagreed that they were safe). The government increased the number of obligatory vaccinations for children, who now have to have 11 instead of three. New statistics show that 87 percent of children in France who had their first birthday in 2018 have been vaccinated against measles.

Professor Launay says those who oppose vaccines in France are mostly younger parents, who tend to use internet as a source of information. She says they need to be reassured and it is vital to make them understand the importance of vaccinations for themselves “but also for the wider population and especially those who are most fragile.”

A decision not to vaccinate an individual poses a risk to others as well as that person because it effects “herd immunity”. Anything less than 95 percent coverage can lead to outbreaks of a disease, according to medical experts.

The World Health Organisation lists vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health.

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