COVID vaccine acceptance across much of the world increased by 3.7% between 2020 and 2021, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
In a June 2021 survey of over 23 000 individuals across 23 countries, the researchers found that 75.2% of respondents reported vaccine acceptance, up from 71.5% one year earlier.
The study was carried out during a year of substantial but very unequal global COVID vaccine availability and acceptance, which required new assessments of the drivers of vaccine hesitancy and the characteristics of people not vaccinated.
Vaccine hesitancy was most consistently associated with concerns about vaccine safety and efficacy and mistrust in vaccine development. Other factors associated with vaccine hesitancy varied by country and included personal experience with COVID (eg, sickness or loss of a family member) and demographic characteristics (eg, gender, education, and income).
The authors also found that vaccine hesitancy was not associated with a country’s current COVID case burden and mortality. In June 2021, vaccine hesitancy was reported most frequently in Russia (48.4%), Nigeria (43%), and Poland (40.7%), and least often in China (2.4%), the UK (18.8%), and Canada (20.8%).
“In order to improve global vaccination rates, some countries may at present require people to present proof of vaccination to attend work, school, or indoor activities and events,” said CUNY SPH Senior Scholar Jeffrey Lazarus. “Our results found strong support among participants for requirements targeting international travellers, while support was weakest among participants for requirements for schoolchildren.”
Those who were vaccine-hesitant were also less likely to express support for vaccine mandates. “Importantly, however, recommendations by a doctor, or to a lesser extent by an employer, might have an impact on a respondent’s views on vaccination in some countries,” said CUNY SPH Dean Ayman El-Mohandes.
Although some countries are currently disengaging from evidence-based COVID control measures, the disease has by no means been controlled or ended as a public health threat. The authors note that for ongoing COVID vaccination campaigns to succeed in improving coverage going forward, substantial challenges remain. These include targeting those reporting lower vaccine confidence with evidence-based information campaigns and greatly expanding vaccine access in low- and middle-income countries.
The Role of Social Networks
The researchers also held a meeting to explore vaccine messaging. According to data presented from a European survey carried out by the Vaccine Confidence Project, the population group most exposed to social networks, ie people under 24, with secondary or university studies and living in urban areas, are the most reluctant to be vaccinated. Additionally, messages that call for vaccination as a “moral obligation” are strongly rejected compared to those that call for “protection,” which are more commonly well received.
As with previous studies, humour was shown to be one of the most effective ways to convey anti-vaccine messages. Therefore, participants in the meeting agreed on the need to disseminate the benefits of vaccines using this same tool, but without making fun of those who have mistaken beliefs about vaccines. In the face of misinformation, it is important to improve information on vaccination using simple language and channels that reach the population, such as social networks, the participants concluded.