The crucial relationship between a society’s trust in science and vaccine confidence
Vaccine hesitancy remains a problem. Patrick Sturgis (LSE), Ian Brunton-Smith (University of Surrey) and Jonathan Jackson (LSE) find that people who live in societies where trust in science is high, are more confident about vaccination.
While there is much that we are yet to understand about the coronavirus, on one issue there is near universal agreement amongst experts – we will not return to normal life until the majority of the world’s population has been vaccinated. An intense effort is now underway to deliver this objective, and a number of countries, including the UK, have already vaccinated a majority of their people.
Up until now, the focus of attention has been on obtaining stocks of vaccines, as national governments vie to maximise their share of a limited global supply. Yet in the months ahead it seems likely that concern will shift from supply to demand, as the willing are inoculated and those still to receive the vaccine are hesitant or unwilling to take it. Vaccine hesitancy and refusal matter because, unlike other medicines, vaccines work at both the individual and the societal levels. Without achieving high rates of immunisation, the coronavirus is likely to remain an endemic threat. While the exact threshold is yet to be determined, it seems likely that countries will need to achieve a vaccination rate of over 70% to attain ‘herd immunity’.
Worryingly, survey evidence suggests that substantial minorities in many countries will refuse to be vaccinated. For example, a survey by Imperial College London in November 2020 found only minorities reporting they would definitely get vaccinated against COVID in Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and France. More recent evidence suggests that hesitancy may be declining as the rollout progresses, but the recent emergence of rare side-effects and the suspension of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines in some countries seem likely to raise doubts in the minds of the unvaccinated. Addressing vaccine hesitancy is likely, then, to be at the forefront of the next stage of the battle against COVID.
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