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Editor of Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
The Wellcome Global Monitor has demonstrated an overall positive trust in science but some concerns still remain on attitudes on vaccines.
Editor’s Note: This article was published in Pharmaceutical Technology Europe’s July 2019 print issue.
A vast global study on the public’s attitude towards science, scientists, and health recently been published by Wellcome (1) has demonstrated an overall positive trust in science. However, the results are perhaps tinged with some concern, particularly in terms of certain attitudes towards vaccines.
The Wellcome Global Monitor comprises the responses of more than 140,000 people located in over 140 countries, making it the largest study of its kind to date (1). Although the questions were aimed at assessing global attitudes towards science in general, there was also a series of questions devoted to vaccines.
Overall, the key findings of the report have demonstrated that the majority of people (72% of respondents) trust scientists. However, more than half of the respondents believe that they do not know very much about science; a gender gap, in terms of knowledge, was apparent from the results, with men more likely to claim they have a greater knowledge of science than women.
These results are probably in tune with smaller studies that have been performed, commonly with a bias towards the United States and Europe. Additionally, other regional studies have confirmed the gender disparity found in those studying science subjects at various levels and of those in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce. Although, according to annual statistics, released by Women into Science and Engineering campaign in the United Kingdom, there has been a steady increase in the number of women taking up a STEM career path in recent years (2).
Vaccines were specifically targeted in the Wellcome Global Monitor due to the impact they have on global health. The World Health Organization has specified that delay of acceptance or a rejection of vaccines represents one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019 (3).
Despite nearly 80% of respondents ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly’ agreeing that vaccines are safe, the report also demonstrated that there was less certainty on safety in high-income regions. Respondents from France had the least belief in vaccine safety, with one in three people disagreeing that they are safe. The regions with the highest belief in vaccine safety were South Asia (95%) and Eastern Africa (92%).
These results are perhaps a little discerning, particularly given the fact that there was a spike in measles cases witnessed globally, with the greatest upsurge seen in the Americas, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and Europe in 2017, as reported by WHO (4).
“The increase in measles cases is deeply concerning, but not surprising,” said Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in the news release (4). “Complacency about the disease and the spread of falsehoods about the vaccine in Europe, a collapsing health system in Venezuela, and pockets of fragility and low immunization coverage in Africa are combining to bring about a global resurgence of measles after years of progress.”
In 2018, the European Commission published a preliminary report from an expert panel on vaccinations and health systems in Europe, which highlighted the main factors influencing vaccine uptake and measures that could help improve vaccination coverage (5). As some of the obstacles to vaccine uptake were identified as anxieties over safety and side effects, as well as a lack of trust, measures to help overcome these and improve uptake included reliable information, positive media messages, and building trust in institutions and providers.
The pharma industry certainly can help the public overcome anxieties of safety and side. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, for example, has already published a series of infographics on the benefits of vaccines for public health, the socio-economic impact of vaccines, and the future of vaccines to help provide information on the value of these life-saving products (6).
Furthermore, vaccinations can help combat the antimicrobial resistance crisis, which is increasing globally year-on-year. Pfizer has recently urged the European Commission to put forward a legislative proposal on against antimicrobial resistance, which includes ‘pull’ mechanisms at the European Union level, to incentivise research into new vaccines and treatments (7).
It will be interesting to see how the global monitor results are applied throughout science and within pharma over the coming months and whether positive influence will garner greater trust in science in the future.
1. Wellcome, “Wellcome Global Monitor,” Report, 19 June 2019.
2. WISE, “Annual Report-April 2017–March 2018,” Report, July 2018.
3. WHO, “Ten Threats to Global Health in 2019,” Emergency Notice [accessed 19 June 2019].
4. WHO, “Measle Cases Spike Globally Due to Gaps in Vaccination Coverage,” News Release, 29 Nov. 2018.
5. EC, “Expert Panel on Effective Ways of Investing in Health: Vaccination Programmes and Health Systems in the European Union,” Report, 26 Sept. 2018.
6. ABPI, “Vaccines,” Infographics [accessed 19 June 2019].
7. Pfizer, “Committed to the Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR),” Article, pfizereupolicy.eu.
Pharmaceutical Technology Europe
Vol. 31, No. 7
When referring to this article, please cite it as F. Thomas, “A Wellcome Result for Science,” Pharmaceutical Technology Europe 31 (7) 2019.