Maltese immune from anti-vaccine nonsense, Eurobarometer finds

The Maltese are believers in the power of vaccines, yet still display limited knowledge on what vaccines do to the human body

As shown in the first Eurobarometer on attitudes towards vaccination, 85% of EU citizens believe vaccination is an effective way to prevent infectious diseases.
As shown in the first Eurobarometer on attitudes towards vaccination, 85% of EU citizens believe vaccination is an effective way to prevent infectious diseases.

The Maltese are officially one of Europe’s main believers in the scientific validity of vaccination, as the European Commission sets out to fight off anti-vax disinformation campaigns.

Yet they proved to be also one of the most uninformed on vaccines, despite their loyalty to the science: 62% agreed with the false statement that vaccines often produce serious side-effects.

As shown in the first Eurobarometer on attitudes towards vaccination, 85% of EU citizens believe vaccination is an effective way to prevent infectious diseases. 

The Maltese registered a 95% belief in vaccination as a means of prevention from diseases, and the lowest ‘disbelief’ cohort – just 1% – from all Europe. 88% also said that not getting vaccinated could lead to serious health issues. 

They were also amongst the highest in Europe to heed government advice on the need for vaccination at 47%, well over the EU average of 24%. 

However, when asked other questions about the power of vaccines to cause side-effects, weaken the immune system, or even cause the disease they are trying to prevent, the Maltese proved to have only a “medium index knowledge” of vaccines – indeed at 61%, having the highest of the EU’s medium knowledge, while only 31% displayed a “high knowledge” of vaccines. 

Nearly half of Europeans incorrectly believe that vaccines often produce serious side-effects, according to the EU-wide poll that comes amid a global rise in cases of measles. It follows reports that confidence in vaccines has declined in some parts of Europe as anti-vaccine groups gain traction in the political sphere.

Italy’s populist coalition last year suspended a requirement for parents to prove their children were vaccinated before starting nursery or pre-school.

Some 48% of those surveyed agreed with the false statement that vaccines often produce serious side-effects, the European Commission’s Special Eurobarometer on Vaccines discovered, compared to 41% who correctly said they don’t. In more than half of EU countries, the incorrect figure was at least 50 percent, including in France and the UK.

“Herd immunity is crucial, particularly when one has a compromised immune system and cannot be vaccinated. Children who survive cancer, for example should not be put at risk because their peers are not vaccinated,” EC vide-president Jyrki Katainen said. 

The Eurobarometer also shows that around half of EU citizens have been vaccinated in the last five years and a large majority (79%) consult and trust a healthcare professional to get information about vaccinations. 

Yet, there are some other worrying findings: 48% Europeans believe – incorrectly – that vaccines can often produce severe side effects and 38% think vaccines can cause the diseases against which they protect. 

“This means our work to increase vaccine coverage and to fight against vaccine disinformation is far from finished. We will continue to roll out all the actions included in the Council Recommendation on strengthened cooperation against vaccine-preventable diseases... our global solidarity and decisive action against vaccine disinformation are crucial. Let's all join forces raising awareness on one simple fact: vaccines work!” Katainen said. 

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