Representational image
Representational imageReuters

Most people would get a COVID-19 vaccine if their government or employer recommended it, results of a global poll showed on Tuesday, amid growing concerns about public distrust of the shots being developed at speed to end the pandemic.

Countries where acceptance exceeded 80 per cent tended to be Asian nations, including China, South Korea and Singapore, where there is strong trust in central governments, the study found.

Some 71.5 per cent of participants said they would be very or somewhat likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine and 61.4 per cent reported they would accept their employer’s recommendation to do so, according to the survey in June of more than 13,000 people in 19 countries.

The poll was overseen by the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), a global surveillance programme on vaccine trust funded by the European Commission and pharmaceutical companies among others, as well as Business Partners to CONVINCE, a US/British initiative that is partly government funded.

All respondents, regardless of nationality, said they would be less likely to accept a COVID-19 vaccine if it were mandated by employers.

There were regional differences in responses though, highlighting the polarisation in attitudes on the topic.

Almost 90 per cent of participants in China said they accepted a vaccine, but the rate in Russia was less than 55 per cent. In France, the positive response rate 58.89 per cent, compared with 75.4 per cent in the United States and 71.48 per cent in Britain.

At least 60-70 per cent of the population would need to have immunity to break the chain of transmission, according to the World Health Organization.

Respondents were aged 18 years or older from 19 countries from among the top 35 countries affected by the pandemic in terms of cases per million population.

The results will likely stir the debate about how to overcome public safety concerns, particularly in Western countries, about the frenetic speed of work to develop vaccines, potentially hampering efforts to control the pandemic and revive the global recovery.

There are about 200 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in development globally, including more than 40 in human clinical trials to test for safety and effectiveness. Many are being squeezed into a matter of months for a process that would typically take 10 years or longer.

“Vaccine hesitancy”

Scott Ratzan, co-leader of Business Partners to CONVINCE and lecturer at CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, said the data demonstrated diminished public trust.

“It will be tragic if we develop safe and effective vaccines and people refuse to take them,” he said in an email.

“We need to develop a robust and sustained effort to address vaccine hesitancy and rebuild public confidence in the personal, family, and community benefits of immunisations.”

Reporting a willingness to get vaccinated might not be necessarily a good predictor of acceptance, as vaccine decisions can change over time.

Also the poll took place before Russia started the mass inoculation of its population with its Sputnik V shot before full studies had been completed and AstraZeneca had to pause its late-stage study in September due to a participant’s illness.

Last month, nine leading US and European vaccine developers issued a pledge to uphold scientific standards and testing rigour.

Last week, Facebook Inc said it would start banning ads that explicitly discouraged people from getting vaccinated.

Even before the pandemic, it was a growing challenge for public health bodies. In January 2019 the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global health threats for that year.

A relatively high tendency toward acceptance in middle-income countries, such as Brazil, India and South Africa, was also observed.

Age also affected attitudes. Older people were more likely to report that they would take a vaccine, whereas younger respondents were more likely to accept an employer’s vaccine recommendation.

This finding might reflect who was actually employed or employable at the time of the survey which was an issue they did not investigate, it said.

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