The danger of anti-vaccination attitudes for the future of the Covid-19 pandemic

When the figure of four million infections by the new coronavirus has already been exceeded worldwide, the scientific community is working against the clock to develop a vaccine that would leave the pandemic behind. “The first option to stop the transmission of the virus is massive prophylaxis and enormous efforts are being made to develop and evaluate the efficacy of different types of vaccines,” explains Xavier Bosch, physician at the Institut Català d’Oncologia (ICO ), researcher at the Institut d’Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge (IDIBELL) and professor at the Open University of Catalonia (UOC).

However, some celebrities have spread messages rejecting a possible future vaccine and a survey carried out in France in March identified that 26% of the participants were reluctant or opposed to accepting the vaccination against Covid-19. Fortunately, globally, 8 out of 10 people recognize that these treatments are effective and safe, the Wellcome Global Monitor study confirmed.


Vaccine scepticism: global effects


According to Assumpta Company, also physician at ICO, researcher at IDIBELL and professor at the UOC, “the negative impact of these attitudes generically called anti-vaccine positions led the WHO to declare vaccine scepticism as one of the 10 medical priorities of the year.”

Bosch, whose research helped identify the human papilloma virus (HPV) as the causative agent of most cervical cancers, knows very well the effect that anti-vaccine theses can have on global health. “In contrast to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, for HPVs we have very effective vaccines and from this year we even have a global prevention strategy coordinated by the WHO,” explains Bosch. But he adds, “positions opposed to these campaigns and clearly anti-vaccine attitudes have temporarily boycotted vaccination in some countries such as Japan, Colombia or Denmark.


Anti-vaccine arguments, discussed


In this sense, Bosch highlights relevant aspects to interpret the results that will be published about the studies in progress and discusses some of the arguments typically used by the anti-vaccination movement:

1.- Reduction of risk perception. “It is likely that general confinement or the arrival of treatments will reduce the perception of risk. Vaccines against SARS in 2002 or MERS in 2012 never became available because developing them ceased to be a priority when the initial outbreak was controlled with health and care measures,” explains Bosch.

2.- Possible partial efficacy of the vaccine. “Covid-19 vaccine might only be effective partially, lower than the expectations that we commonly have for vaccines, which would curb the enthusiasm to launch a universal vaccination“, explains Dr. Bosch, citing the example of the flu vaccine, with an efficiency of around 50-60% and with vaccination coverage in Europe of around 30% of the population.

3.- There will be no vaccines for the entire population, initially. “The priority criteria on which population groups should have access to the vaccine in the first instance should be well discussed and explained. Also, poorer countries are likely to have more difficulty accessing it,” regrets Bosch.

4.- Financing to the detriment of other health policies. According to Bosch: “Usually, when massive investments are made in a pathology, as is now the case with Covid-19, resources tend to be restricted for other health programs. In different countries, childhood vaccination programs for other pathologies have already been interrupted to redirect resources to control the pandemic and confinement.

5.- Possible lack of transparency on conflicts of interest. “We will have to carefully communicate the vaccination strategy, be strict with the transparency policy and report potential conflicts of interest for researchers, which is the Achilles’ heel of the essential collaboration between industry and academia,” explains Professor Bosch.

6.- Unfounded arguments about the insecurity of the vaccine.The safety criteria of vaccines or their adjuvants have always been exposed by the anti-vaccine movement against virtually all infections despite the accumulated experience in international widespread vaccination programs,” according to Bosch, so it is likely that these arguments also emerge in the case of Covid-19 although there are no objective data or controlled studies to suggest it.

7.- Politicization of vaccination and fake news.The rivalry between some parties and the politicization of vaccination tends to adopt emotional and extreme positions in times of crisis, both for and against,” explains Bosch. “Fake news about Covid-19 are already circulating abundantly on social media and this represents a breeding ground for any sceptical or clearly anti-vaccine opinion,” says Bosch.

8.- Obstinate attitudes even if they are proven incorrect. Despite massive scientific evidence, anti-vaccine attitudes rarely acknowledge or justify their mistakes,” says Bosch. “This is part of a strategy of repeating over and over again wrong arguments that are often related to other interests, such as the sale of alternative medicines and lawsuits to the large vaccine-producing industry,” according to Bosch.

News adapted and initially published at:

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