Media coverage of research into attitudes towards the much-awaited covid-19 vaccine was so alarmist this week, the researchers felt obliged to quickly provide an update. The update highlighted that the research had provided important positive findings which were at risk of being missed.
What the research says about a covid-19 vaccine
Much of the coverage on Sunday sought to shake us up by yelling “only half” of people would definitely, or be very likely to, make use of a coronavirus vaccine. This missed out the crucial detail about the clear majority, with 73% likely to do so.
The research by Kings’ College London found that 30% of respondents said they would definitely get a vaccine. Another 23% said they would be very likely to, with 20% fairly likely. This suggests strong confidence in a vaccine as a way to beat the virus.
The findings supported previous research, comparing attitudes in seven European countries. That research found that UK respondents were the second-equal most willing to make use of a vaccine, at 79%. This was equal to those from Lombardy, the region of Italy so badly hit by the virus.
Following the headlines, Full Fact also fact checked the suggestion that one sixth would “refuse” a vaccine. The question had instead asked people whether they were “unlikely” to be vaccinated. This suggests a nuance for that smaller group, perhaps awaiting confirmation of the effectiveness of any vaccine.
Increasing the chances of “undecided” becoming a “yes”
As well as successfully developing the vaccine, there will be a need to increase the current willingness. This will require sufficient information, reassurance, and access in order to be effective. Not only will this help enable those who are ready to use it, but could also help reassure some of those who might be sitting on the fence for now.
Information on effectiveness of a covid-19 vaccine
Where doubts have arisen about vaccines, they’re often linked to lack of clear, reliable information. This was apparent from KCL’s finding that lower knowledge of coronavirus correlated with less willingness.
The provision of information on the expected effectiveness of any vaccine, as well as the consequences of declining, has been identified as potentially important in gaining support from the undecided. Information about any side effects, even if minor, could all help reinforce confidence.
Research has also shown the importance of conversations with family and friends in feeling confident about vaccines and countering misinformation. This emphasises the importance of informed debate over shaming and stigmatising.
Similarly, being able to openly discuss any concerns with trusted family doctors can build confidence.
Often the reason vaccine uptake is lower than hoped isn’t due to lack of will, but practical constraints, such as time and access.
The opportunity to receive flu vaccinations or donate blood at differing venues, for example, has increased uptake. A visiting nurse on-site for vaccines at offices, and/ or being allowed time off work for an appointment could reduce potential barriers. Another option could be for surgeries to coordinate vaccinations with other routine appointments.
A notable phenomena during the pandemic has been the enthusiasm to help each other, and show appreciation. Far more volunteered at the start of the pandemic to help the NHS and other charities than places were available. It may be that vaccines become one of the most straightforward yet lasting ways for everyone to be able to help.
All of these are ways of strengthening confidence in the benefits of vaccination. This can only further increase the widespread willingness to take up a future vaccine.
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