A recent Eurobarometer survey of 28,000 EU citizens came to the conclusion that Europeans overwhelmingly stand behind vaccines as a means of preventing disease. Eight out of ten say that vaccine drugs are rigorously tested. That’s the good news.

There’s also plenty of skepticism, however, which is not backed up by science, warn EU officials. Nearly half of Europeans, for example, believe that vaccines can often elicit deleterious side-effects. This was the first-ever face-to-face poll on the issue of vaccines conducted in the EU.

The survey found that 48% of Europeans are convinced that “vaccines can often produce severe side effects,” while 40% don’t believe it. Those most skeptical populations toward vaccines live in Cyprus, Croatia, Malta, Slovenia, and France. In contrast, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden ranked highest in belief that vaccines are effective. An alarming figure: nearly four in ten believe that vaccines can cause the same disease against which they claim to protect; 31% even say that vaccines actually harm the immune system.

Perhaps a part of the problem, it seems that Europeans are somewhat confused about the diseases that actually can cause death. Over half of those asked said that the flu was most lethal (53%), followed by meningitis and hepatitis. Measles comes in fourth, followed by polio. Again, there were wide country-to-country discrepancies.

The peoples in Finland, Germany, Portugal and Sweden were those who had been recently vaccinated, while Romania, Hungary and Poland landed at the other end of the spectrum. The reason for being vaccinated was overwhelming the recommendation of a healthcare practitioner. Those who hadn’t been vaccinated simply “hadn’t seen at reason for it;” 9% claimed that they thought vaccinations have harmful side-effects. The French, Belgians and Romanians were the most wary.

“The vaccination coverage is decreasing and diseases are increasing and this is a risk for public health and security,” according to European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen. He warned that Europe’s vaccine confidence is the lowest in the world. Just last year, 12,000 cases of measles were reported in the EU, Norway, and Switzerland, and 35 people died from it, Katainen said. He expressed concern about the surprisingly low number that recognized measles as a potentially lethal disease.

The Union does not have a mandate in the highly controversial field of vaccination. Member states can individually compose national strategies to make them mandatory or not – a choice that many health-care experts challenge. They say that there can be no choice when it comes to putting other people’s health at risk, which is what they do if they contract the illness. The European Commission wants to strengthen cooperation between member states against vaccine-preventable diseases.