Coronavirus: fifth of people likely to refuse Covid vaccine, UK survey finds | Coronavirus outbreak

A fifth of people are likely to refuse a Covid vaccine when one becomes available, according to the largest survey of UK attitudes and behaviour during the pandemic.

The survey by University College London of 70,000 people, which was launched before lockdown, found that only half (49%) considered themselves “very likely” to get vaccinated once there is a Covid vaccine and 10% said they were “very unlikely”.

Since a Covid vaccine does not yet exist, the researchers probed attitudes towards vaccines in general to find out some of the underlying reasons. Their results “suggest substantial levels of misinformation amongst the general public about vaccines”, they say in their report.

There were considerable anxieties about the side-effects of the vaccines we already have. More than half (53%) believed to varying degrees that vaccines can cause unforeseen effects. Nearly a third (30%) believed there could be future problems for adults or children that were as yet unknown.

More than a third (38%) thought natural immunity – from having the infection and recovering – was better than immunity from vaccines. A small minority (4%) said they did not believe vaccines offered protection.

A quarter were deeply suspicious of pharmaceutical companies, believing that vaccines are used in “commercial profiteering”, while 4% strongly believed that vaccination programmes were a con by pharmaceutical companies and authorities who are promoting vaccination for financial gain.

“I think what this perhaps suggests is the general belief among some people that vaccines aren’t necessarily safe,” said Dr Daisy Fancourt, lead author of the Covid-19 Social Study, which is mainly funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

They were not convinced that the safety and regulatory procedures involved in developing a vaccine would ensure its safety.

“People have spoken about regulation, approval and things like that over the course of this pandemic but not everyone necessarily understands what that means.

“The reason we’ve asked about this now is because it takes a while to break down misinformation or to build up trust. But this sort of gives us a pointer in the next few months, perhaps, to the importance of explaining to people the processes vaccines go through to make sure they are safe, so that people understand just how well checked a vaccine actually is at the point it makes it to market.”

More people said they were willing to get a Covid vaccine than a flu vaccine – 78% against 74%. But older adults, who will have been offered a free flu vaccine by the NHS every year, said they were more likely to get that (73% v 58%), while younger adults who do not routinely get vaccinated against flu were more inclined to have a Covid vaccine (46% v 25%).

Most people (85%) agreed that vaccines work. But 7% reported not feeling completely sure that vaccines work and provide protection, 5% expressed more mistrust, and 4% strongly reported mistrusting vaccines.

“The concerns highlighted by this report over uptake of a potential Covid-19 vaccine, and indeed all vaccines, are a real worry for public health,” said Dr Doug Brown, chief executive of the British Society for Immunology.

“Once any future Covid-19 vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, promoting high uptake will be critical to stopping this disease spreading through our communities.

“To combat people’s concerns around vaccination, it’s vital that the public have easy access to reliable, evidence-based information on how vaccines work and why they are important.

“To build trust and improve confidence in any future coronavirus vaccine, both government and the scientific community need to continue to be open and honest with people to explain the vaccine development process and to create high profile opportunities to actively engage with the public to answer any questions they might have.”

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