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New Research Reveals that 32% of Adolescents Say That Vaccines Can Be Dangerous

08 December 2017

The Confederation of Meningitis Organisations (CoMO) has today published a study which shows that around a third of adolescents in six European countries believe that vaccines can be dangerous.

The research, which was conducted by ComRes on behalf of CoMO, surveyed 3,026 participants aged 14 to 18 from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Poland between 24th March and 3rd April 2017. The study sought to examine adolescents’:

  • Knowledge and perceptions of vaccinations

  • Awareness and understanding of meningitis

  • Preferred communication channels for receiving information on vaccines.

Although knowledge of vaccinations varies from country to country, the data suggests that on the whole providing adolescents with information on vaccinations could be beneficial: in France, 74% of adolescents correctly identify that vaccinations are needed at all stages of life, and this figure drops to 49% and 46% in the UK and Poland respectively.

The data suggests that vaccine hesitancy is highest in France, where 2 in 5 adolescents (41%) say that vaccines can be dangerous. This number is in line with data gathered by the Vaccines Confidence Project , which found that 41% of French residents do not think that vaccines are safe. Likewise, 24% of UK adolescents surveyed say that vaccines can be dangerous, and a study conducted in 2015 also found that 24% of British parents are vaccine hesitant.

“24% of UK adolescents say that vaccines can be dangerous”

Though only 38% of Swedish adolescents say they have heard of meningitis, 93% of those in Italy and the UK say the same, suggesting a large variation in meningitis awareness across the survey countries. General understanding of meningitis also varies across countries; while 83% of Italian adolescents correctly say meningitis is contagious, only 15% of Polish respondents do. While meningococcal bacteria are harmless to most, they can be passed from person to person through saliva or respiratory droplets and result in disease.

Although 77% of all adolescents surveyed believe that vaccinations are the best way to protect against meningitis infection, only a third (34%) report being vaccinated against it. Though anyone of any age can contract meningitis, teenagers and young adults are at an increased risk of developing meningococcal meningitis due to their lifestyles.

Sam Rosoman, CoMO’s Executive Director said, “It’s crucial that this age group are protected against meningitis as they are one of the key at-risk groups. Their protection also increases that of those in the community that aren’t able to receive vaccinations. It’s possible that some of these adolescents have also forgotten previous vaccines but it is key that they, and their guardians, know what protection they have had and what is available”.

Although several countries have launched campaigns to encourage adolescents to get vaccinated, the survey results suggest that there is a continued need for these campaigns to boost uptake and raise awareness of the diseases that vaccines can provide protection against.

“Only 34% of adolescents say they have been vaccinated against meningitis.”

There were also some concerning results around the identification of meningitis symptoms. 14% of the survey respondents who have say they heard of meningitis report not knowing what the symptoms are, and this rises to 25% amongst Polish adolescents. As meningitis can kill within 24 hours, knowing the symptoms of meningitis can save lives. Symptoms include a severe headache, a high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

98% of respondents in the ComRes survey say that the vaccine information they receive from their parents, guardians and doctors is trustworthy so there is a crucial role for these groups to play in increasing awareness among adolescents.

The full data tables from the survey can be found here.

For any questions about meningitis or the survey, please contact

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