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Blog 19 January, 2021 Back

Vaccine hesitancy in the fight against COVID-19

Becky Malcolm

Published in January 2020, the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report identified vaccine hesitancy and drug resistance as a global threat undermining progress against pandemics.

This prediction is suddenly very real in the current COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also reported that it considers reluctance or refusal to vaccinate to be among the top 10 threats to global health. 

Vaccine hesitancy has been growing over the years and has already led to outbreaks of measles worldwide, including in developed countries where it had largely been eliminated. In 2019 New York City spent US$6 million responding to a completely preventable measles outbreak. 

In the UK, as part of a COVID-19 Social Study, a survey by University College London of 70,000 people found there were considerable anxieties about the side-effects of the vaccines we already have. 

More than half (53%) believed to varying degrees that vaccines can cause unforeseen effects. Nearly a third believed there could be future problems for adults or children that were as yet unknown, and a quarter were deeply suspicious of pharmaceutical companies - believing that vaccines are used in “commercial profiteering”.

"Experts suggest up to 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated to stop the pandemic."

Worryingly, multiple surveys show that Europeans are among the most sceptical of vaccines.

A recent survey of more than 13,400 people in 19 countries, undertaken by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Ipsos, found that people in France were the least likely to say that they would receive a COVID-19 vaccine, with only 40% intent on getting vaccinated. 

Sweden, Germany, Italy and Spain were also more sceptical than other developed countries, such as the United States and South Korea, according to the WEF-Ipsos survey

Vaccine scepticism could be linked to trust in government. A recent Nature Medicine global survey found that people reporting high levels of trust in government information were more likely to accept a vaccine. 

"The broad trend our survey showed across the whole world was that the richer a country is and the more economically developed it is, the less confidence people tend to have in vaccines in those countries," said Imran Khan, the head of public engagement at the Wellcome Trust. 

"It comes down to the fact that vaccines are globally highly regulated by government, recommended by government, sometimes required or mandated by government," said Dr Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. 

"If you have any issues with government or distrust in the way you’ve been treated as a marginalised group or just the particular political leadership, if you felt you’ve been betrayed by it, you’ll think twice before you accept a vaccine that they are deciding on, they’re regulating and they may be requiring," Larson, one of the authors of the Nature study, added. 

Stopping a pandemic requires using all the tools available. Together, the COVID-19 vaccination and following CDC, WHO & PHE recommendations to protect yourself and others will offer the best protection from COVID-19. 

Anvil's Chief Medical Officer, Dr Juliane Kause, has produced some answers to frequently asked questions about the available COVID-19 vaccines. Download the fact sheet here.