Worrying trend on vaccination – new study

Anti-vaccination attitudes in New Zealand are becoming more entrenched among almost a third of the population and the trend is a worrying one, researchers say.

Carol Lee

In the first longitudinal survey to track New Zealanders’ attitudes to vaccination over time, a majority of 60 percent did express high confidence in its safety.

But the study, from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), found 30 percent of people becoming more sceptical, says researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Auckland Carol Lee.

“The data did show a quite high number - 30 percent - of people who are less supportive of vaccination now than they were five years ago and the danger is that trend will continue, which poses a challenge in terms of public health messaging,” she says.

The NZAVS is a longitudinal 20-year survey based in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland and regularly questions more than 18,000 New Zealanders on a wide range of social and cultural issues.

Responses on the vaccination question between 2013 and 2017 were analysed for this latest study.

Survey participants were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the statement “It is safe to vaccinate children following the standard NZ immunisation schedule” on a scale of between 1 and 7, with a 7 denoting strong agreement.

Respondents split on the vaccination question into distinct groups: ‘believers’ who tended to agree with the statement at the upper end of the scale and made up 60 percent of the total; ‘sceptics’ who made up 30 percent and who generally agreed at less than 5 on the scale and showed a decreasing level of agreement over time.

Also identified was another distinct group of 10 percent who had become more positive about vaccination in the past five years. This group had a low confidence level of 3.5 on the scale in 2013 but by 2017, that had risen to 6.

The survey also identified key demographic groups who were more likely to be consistently supportive or, conversely, becoming more sceptical about the safety of vaccination. Europeans, men, those from more affluent areas and with a higher education level, were more likely to be vaccine believers. Older individuals, women, and those with a generally lower level of education were more likely to be vaccine sceptics.

Ms Lee says this is the first study to show how New Zealanders’ attitudes to vaccination are changing over time and which also identifies differing patterns of change between distinct groups.

“It shows that there are sub-populations who are becoming increasingly polarised in their beliefs which in turn highlights the need to develop target interventions for those at higher risk of decreasing vaccine confidence,” Ms Lee says.

The research is published in EClinicalMedicine

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