Vaccine hesitancy is once again rearing its head, putting the efficacy of a mass coronavirus vaccination campaign in question.
It’s becoming increasingly apparent that a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be the silver bullet we hope it to be. Although so far, preliminary results have been remarkably encouraging, we’re still a ways off from an actual, working, and safe vaccine — and there are no guarantees. Then, even if we had that vaccine, the matter of producing and distributing hundreds of millions or billions of doses will be a gargantuan task in itself. Then, there’s the matter of whether people will actually take the vaccine.
A recent Gallup poll finds that 35% of Americans would refuse the vaccine even if it were free. This disturbingly high figure (coupled with lower, but still concerning reports from other countries) puts our post-pandemic future in question even more.
What vaccine hesitancy is saying about our society
In a previous interview before the Gallup Poll, Richard Carpiano, Professor of Public Policy and Sociology at the University of California, Riverside addressed rising concerns about vaccine hesitancy and the political divides that lead to this.
“When we’re talking about vaccine hesitancy, we’re not talking about just people who have genuine concerns about safety or effectiveness of vaccines. No, those are completely understandable. I’m talking here about people for whom this is a political issue.”
Indeed, in the US, vaccine hesitancy seems to be a deeply political issue, with 81% of Democrats saying they would be willing to have a vaccine, compared to only 47% of Republicans. Remarkably, no other major demographic parameter had such an influence on the results.
Here are the full results of the question from the Gallup Poll — note that the question emphasizes an FDA-approved, safe vaccine.
If an FDA-approved vaccine to prevent coronavirus/COVID-19 was available right now at no cost, would you agree to be vaccinated?
18-29 years old
30-49 years old
50-64 years old
65 and older
Suburb of a large city
GALLUP PANEL, JULY 20-AUG. 2, 2020
Another problem, Carpiano notes, is that in the US, the conversation around vaccines is changing. The focus is shifting away from debunked ideas about vaccine safety (the infamous “vaccines cause autism conspiracy theory) to discussions about freedom and government intervention.
“We can expect to see some rather significant challenges here, particularly as a lot of this is going to play into the sort of arguments that anti-vaccine activists raised for a long time around Big Pharma, around government overreach, those sorts of issues,” Carpiano notes.
“The conversation around vaccines is changing and becoming concentrated around values. The discussion is carried more in the sense about freedoms and, and about choice. So this is an argument about some sort of liberty and appeals more to libertarian type values, which does present a certain type of challenge”
It’s interesting to note that in the US, the younger people are more likely they are to support a coronavirus vaccine. In other parts of the world, it’s exactly the opposite. In the UK, for instance, 1 in 6 (16%) say they would definitely not or would be unlikely to accept a vaccine, but the age trend was exactly opposite: young people were twice as likely not to want a vaccine.
However, just as in the US, it was beliefs about science and authority that directed hesitancy, rather than reasons related to the coronavirus itself.
For instance, there was a correlation between Britons less likely to accept a vaccine and those who believe the government is trying to control the population by getting them to wear masks. In addition, those less likely to accept a vaccine were also more likely to say they get all their information about the disease from social media, rather than other publishers. Professor Bobby Duffy, director of King’s College London’s Policy Institute, which led the study, notes a correlation between vaccine hesitancy and distrust not only in science but also in authority.
“While one in six in the UK say they are unlikely to or definitely won’t get a potential vaccine against Covid-19, this rises to around a third or more among certain groups, with a clear link to belief in conspiracy theories and mistrust of government, authority and science.”
These surveys suggest that even if everything goes excellently with development, a vaccine might not be the end of our coronavirus woes. If even such an overarching and pressing threat such a pandemic can be overruled by conspiracy theories, this does not bode well.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.