The world is struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Test-and-trace has faced the challenges of implementation and some countries are entering a new cycle of lockdowns and increasing pandemic fatigue, especially in European countries.
But another force appears to be mounting which is a reluctance to receive a pandemic vaccine.
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Several pharmaceutical firms are working on vaccine trials, while global associations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi (the vaccine alliance) and CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) are still trying to ensure that those most in need have access to any future solution.
Over the past few months, great strides in vaccine development have brought hope to the world population. For instance, recent reports suggested that doctors in the UK are being instructed to be ready to administer a vaccine by Christmas.
But a new World Economic Forum-Ipsos survey shows that since August, confidence in taking a COVID-19 vaccine has dropped, with fewer individuals from around the globe saying they will get one.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international Non-Governmental Organization headquartered in Geneva and founded in 1971. Ipsos is a France-based multinational market research company.
The survey shows that, on average, 73 percent of adults from 15 countries strongly or somewhat agree with the statement that “If a COVID-19 vaccine were available, I would get it.” This figure was 77 percent 3 months earlier.
At the time, the vaccine confidence deficit was significant enough to be seen to compromise the effectiveness of seeing an end to the pandemic.
Compared to three months ago, confidence is now down 4 points. In 10 out of the 15 countries included in the study, mainly China, Australia, Spain, and Brazil, the intent to get a vaccine has declined.
However, more than four in five in India, mainland China, South Korea and Brazil claim they will get a vaccine if available compared to just over half in France and about two in three in Italy, US, South Africa, Spain, Germany and Japan.
Why are they hesitant to take a vaccine?
The reasons that individuals are hesitant to get a vaccine vary.
Globally, 34 percent of them raise concerns about side effects and 33 percent have concerns about clinical trials progressing too quickly.
Worrying about side effects is most cited among those from Japan (62 percent), while in Brazil and Spain the speed of clinical trials is most reported (by 48 percent in both countries).
Overall, one in ten say they are against vaccines globally (including 14 percent in India and South Africa), they don’t think a vaccine would be safe (15 percent in Germany) and they say that the risk of getting COVID-19 is small (20 percent in China and 19 percent in Australia).
Around one in four adults (24 percent) in 15 countries assume that the chance of getting COVID-19 is so low that it is not necessary to get a vaccine at all. Adults in India stand out as being especially likely (52 percent) to agree with this statement. The US follows next, but at a distance, at 31 percent, while Canadians are less likely to agree, with just 16 percent expressing this opinion.
How soon will the vaccine be available?
The study also looked at how soon the vaccine would be received by people. Half of adults worldwide (52 percent) say they will be vaccinated within three months after everybody has access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
In Mexico (71 percent), Brazil (68 percent) and China (68 percent), more than two thirds believe it to happen so, but in France and Spain (38 percent both) it was less than four in 10.
As many as 90 percent in China and 86 percent in South Korea state that they will be vaccinated in the first year of the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine, compared to just 54 percent in France.
On average, only 45 percent of all adults in 15 countries believe that the first vaccine will be available for general use within the next six months when asked how soon they thought the first vaccine will be available for general use for COVID-19. This includes the 16 percent who expect a vaccine within three months to be ready.
Instead, 55% believe it’s going to take nine months or longer, including 18% who believe it’s going to take at least 18 months.
The expectation that a vaccine will be available in the next six months is most prevalent in China (75%), India (72%), Brazil (67%) and the US (57%) while it is the lowest in France (26%), Spain (30%) and Japan (32%).
Vaccine confidence is integral
The survey reveals that one of the great stumbling blocks is vaccine confidence itself, apart from the difficulties of developing a vaccine and then ensuring its equal distribution.
Between 2015 and 2019, a separate study mapping patterns in vaccine confidence across 149 nations found that concern about vaccine safety continued to rise alongside political uncertainty and religious extremism. Confidence can be extremely variable and it should not be taken for granted.
In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community, experts predict that at least 70 percent of the population would need to be immune to the virus. To meet this requirement, public confidence in a vaccine needs to be particularly high and the current lack of confidence may be sufficient to limit effectiveness.
In 2019, WHO listed public hesitancy towards vaccination as one of the Top 10 Global Health Threats, impacting not only public health, but businesses and economies.
Although the statistics in this recent study show that overall, there is more faith in a COVID-19 vaccine than not, the rising hesitancy is material and highlights that if people don’t take it, a vaccine would not work.
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