Long-Term Development in Germany – Eurasia Review
Vaccination hesitancy and opposition to vaccinations was already a much-discussed topic before the pandemic. However, little is known about long-term trends due to a lack of data. Claudia Diehl and Christian Hunkler have studied this development. Based on the KiGGS longitudinal cohort study on the health of children, adolescents and young adults in Germany by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), they analyze the attitudes of parents and the corresponding vaccination rates of children born up to in the early 2000s and compare them with those of parents whose children were born in the late 1980s. They focus on the vaccination of children against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR). Vaccination hesitant parents are those who – regardless of their actual vaccination decisions – have reservations about MMR vaccination, i.e. they are worried about side effects or consider the corresponding diseases harmless .
The results have just been published in the journal PLOS ONE. They show that vaccination rates have increased and the proportion of vaccine-hesitant parents has declined across generations, from around 10% of children born in the late 1980s to around 6% among those born around the year 2000. According to the KiGGS data, the group of vaccination skeptics more often includes people with a medium and high level of education as well as people living in large cities, and less often immigrants and East Germans.
However, looking more closely at the data, the authors also found an opposite trend – namely among the small, shrinking group of vaccine-hesitant parents. Their children are not vaccinated more frequently according to the birth cohorts, but on the contrary, less and less frequently. During the corresponding period, the proportion of vaccinated children in this group rose from about 50 to a good 20%. “The group of vaccine-hesitant parents has apparently become smaller, but also more determined,” concludes Claudia Diehl, author of the study. This means they are more likely to act on their vaccine-reluctant views and not have their children vaccinated. Until the late 1980s, vaccine-hesitant parents apparently frequently followed expert recommendations and had their children vaccinated despite their reluctance, Diehl suspects. This was less often the case for children born later. In fact, skepticism towards “scientifically based” medicine was already growing at that time, as was the interest in the supposed “experts” in the field of alternative medicine and homeopathy, who are more often skeptical with regard to vaccines, notes Diehl.
“One would assume that the internet, by providing easy access to critical vaccine misinformation, is responsible for this development. But to our surprise, it turned out that the trend described began even before the massive use of the Internet. This does not mean that the Internet does not play a role in explaining vaccine hesitancy today, however: “The trend we are describing stops in the late 1990s, and it It was only around this time that a significant portion of the population started using the internet as a source of information.
Although the data does not allow statements to be made over the past two decades, important conclusions can be drawn for the current situation, explains Claudia Diehl: “In the case of measles vaccinations, it has become clear that even a small group of determined vaccination skeptics is enough to prevent the elimination of highly contagious viruses despite great efforts.