Vaccines--often lauded as one of the greatest public health interventions--are losing public confidence. Some vaccine experts have referred to this decline in confidence as a crisis. We discuss some of the characteristics of the changing global environment that are contributing to increased public questioning of vaccines, and outline some of the specific determinants of public trust. Public decision making related to vaccine acceptance is neither driven by scientific nor economic evidence alone, but is also driven by a mix of psychological, sociocultural, and political factors, all of which need to be understood and taken into account by policy and other decision makers. Public trust in vaccines is highly variable and building trust depends on understanding perceptions of vaccines and vaccine risks, historical experiences, religious or political affiliations, and socioeconomic status. Although provision of accurate, scientifically based evidence on the risk-benefit ratios of vaccines is crucial, it is not enough to redress the gap between current levels of public confidence in vaccines and levels of trust needed to ensure adequate and sustained vaccine coverage. We call for more research not just on individual determinants of public trust, but on what mix of factors are most likely to sustain public trust. The vaccine community demands rigorous evidence on vaccine efficacy and safety and technical and operational feasibility when introducing a new vaccine, but has been negligent in demanding equally rigorous research to understand the psychological, social, and political factors that affect public trust in vaccines.
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