COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is striking, shows RECOVER Social Science study

01 February 2021

In collaboration with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the RECOVER Social Sciences team has published a policy brief based on their latest study on public views of COVID-19 vaccination in seven European countries: France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Ukraine.

According to the data, vaccine hesitancy is striking: less than half of respondents in every country believed COVID vaccines were safe. If they were found to be safe and effective and provided free-of-charge, only between 44% and 66% of respondents would accept to be vaccinated.

Open-text responses from France, Italy, and Spain indicated that those accepting vaccination emphasized the benefits of protecting their health and that of loved ones and society. They also highlighted the importance of vaccination to put an end to the pandemic, to resume “normal life”, and to “restore the economy.”

Nevertheless, vaccine safety concerns were important in all countries, with many respondents from France, Spain, and Sweden convinced that safety considerations were being bypassed in vaccine development: the vaccine was often perceived as unnecessary, “poison”, or it was believed it would cause short- or long-term adverse effects.

Although trust in medical personnel was consistently high across all countries, mistrust of global and national authorities and pharmaceutical companies, who were purported to pursue financial and political interests and not those of public health, was widely expressed.

How decision makers can promote vaccines

The goal of the RECOVER Social Science study was to evaluate how people perceive and act on information concerning COVID-19 vaccination, in order to develop options for decision makers that they could consider for promoting the vaccine in the EU/EEA. Public understanding of COVID-19 vaccination is crucial in a pandemic that has been widely described as an “infodemic” (excessive information that spreads rapidly, is deliberately or inadvertently misleading, and impedes lay publics from taking appropriate action during public health emergencies).

The policy brief highlights 4 key policy options:

  1. Messages focusing on the many benefits of mass vaccination could be considered;
  2. Targeted messages may speak more effectively to certain concerns about safety;
  3. Support health care workers to promote vaccination;
  4. Work with journalists from a range of media to facilitate accurate and comprehensive coverage of vaccination issues.

Read the policy brief

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