The anti-vaccination movement gaining traction across the world is "extremely dangerous" and more of a threat than an asteroid strike, according to a highly respected British professor.

English physicist Professor Brian Cox, who is in New Zealand for a science show, told NZ Herald Focus that anti-vaxxers, climate change sceptics and other groups which discredited science were the biggest danger to civilisation.

"When people ask me what are the great threats to civilisation, it's true that very unlikely things like asteroid impacts, there are those threats out there in the universe, but really I think the biggest threat to our civilisation at the moment is the disconnect in democratic societies between facts or data and the understanding of our electorates."

Cox said the anti-vaccination movement "baffled" him.

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"That's extremely dangerous. It's baffling to me.

"I can sort of understand, I don't agree with it but I can understand, how you can be sceptical about climate modelling. It's extremely complicated and abstract and the consequences are not fast," he said.

"In terms of vaccination, one of the great human achievements was the eradication of smallpox through a worldwide co-ordinated vaccination programme.

"It's probably one of the greatest achievements of modern civilisation. It killed hundreds of thousands, even millions of people throughout Europe and beyond, and it went - gone."

He said the anti-vaccination movement seemed to be about the freedom to choose what was best for your child.

"The psychology's relatively easy to understand, because I'm a parent. The idea that you will actively do something to your child which is slightly unpleasant for them, which is take them to the doctor and have a vaccination, is one of those things where you go, 'I'd rather not do that'.

"But it's clear that these childhood diseases that we've largely controlled or eradicated are going to begin rise back again if we, as a society, don't properly vaccinate our children.

"It's a huge risk."