A recent study has found out that there is a link between political populism and vaccine hesitancy. Vaccine hesitancy is one among the top health concerns of WHO in 2019.
Vaccine hesitancy-the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines- threatens the people’s health globally. The vaccine hesitancy data was taken from the Vaccine Confidence Project(2015).
Political populism is operationalized as the percentage of people in a country who voted for populist parties in the 2014 European Parliament elections.
The study was published in the European Journal of Public Health recently, and study analyzed the national level data to examine the link between political populism and vaccine hesitancy in Western Europe. It collected and analyzed data from 14 European countries.
The study found “highly significant positive association” between the people voted for populist parties and the people who believed that vaccines are not safe and are not needed for health.
“It seems likely that scientific populism is driven by similar feelings to political populism,” Jonathan Kennedy, a global health professor and lead author of the study, said in London press release in Queen Mary University. “Even where programs objectively improve the health of targeted populations, they can be viewed with suspicion by communities that do not trust elites and experts, in the case of vaccine hesitancy, distrust is focused on public health experts and pharmaceutical companies that advocate vaccines.”
Professor Sophie Harman, who is also a global health expert from Queen’s Mary School of Politics and International Relations but not involved in research stated: “Like restrictions on reproductive rights anti-vaccination rhetoric has long been the canary in the coal mine for populism.”
The study states: “The distinguishing characteristic of populist parties is their anti-establishment message. Populists divide the world into masses and elites, and claim to represent the interests of the former while being antagonistic to latter.” The ideology of masses depends upon the host party.
“It can refer to political, economic, cultural, media and legal elites, as well as credential experts,” study said.
The study said that scientific populism is very similar to political populism-profound distrust of elites and experts by disenfranchised and marginalized parts of the population. Populist political parties are taking help of scientific populism.
The study used anecdotal evidence to support the research.
In France, the right-wing Front National raised concerns about vaccine safety and laws that make childhood vaccinations mandatory.
Similarly, in Greece, the SYRIZA party proposed that parents should be able to opt out of vaccinating their children.
Kennedy concluded by saying that: “The more general popular distrust of elites and experts that seems to inform vaccine hesitancy will be difficult to resolve unless its underlying causes-an iniquitous economic system and unrepresentative political system-are addressed.”