WHO Director-General Expresses Concern Over Public Mistrust Of Vaccines

During the WHO’s executive board meeting Monday, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan expressed concerns over what she called a “‘worrisome’ public mistrust of vaccines, following signs of a tail-off in flu vaccination,” Agence France-Presse reports (1/18).

Noting that some countries continue to report cases of H1N1 (swine flu), Chan said, “In some cases, persuading the public to seek vaccination has become even more problematic than during the pandemic. As documented in the [WHO] report on immunization, the problem of public mistrust extends well beyond influenza vaccines,” CIDRAP News reports.

“We may need to accept the fact that public perceptions about vaccine safety can be permanently changed by unfounded fears, to an extent that no amount of evidence can change the public’s mind,” Chan said. “This is a worrisome new trend that needs to be addressed,” she added, according to the news service (Roos, 1/18).

“A study by the WHO in 2009 estimated that the rate of incomplete childhood vaccination stood at 44 percent,” according to AFP. The report also concluded the “attitudes and knowledge of parents” are the “the primary influences on whether a child is fully vaccinated.”

The article notes how public skepticism over vaccines has impacted developed and developing nations, where, in the latter, vaccines are often in limited supplies. For example, the news service writes, “Global efforts to eradicate polio were hit by a year long halt to immunisation in Nigeria in 2003, when radical Muslim clerics and some doctors raised unproven concerns about vaccine safety, allowing the disease to spread” (1/18).

The WHO board meeting, which will continue until Jan. 25, is scheduled to “consider a long list of reports on topics that include pandemic flu preparedness and the sharing of flu viruses and access to vaccines, implementation of the International Health Regulations, the WHO’s global immunization vision and strategy,” CIDRAP News writes (1/18).

During her speech, Chan also referenced the ongoing review of the WHO’s handling of the H1N1 pandemic by a committee of experts commissioned by the agency, according to a transcript of Chan’s statements.  The group is expected to report its findings to the World Health Assembly in May, she said (1/17).

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