A pandemic of perpetuation
Over the summer, the WHO and UNICEF warned of the disruptive impact COVID-19 has had on the delivery and uptake of immunisation services worldwide.2 During the first three weeks of national lockdown in England, there was a 20% drop in the number of MMR vaccines administered.3 Social distancing policies and ‘stay at home’ messaging resulted in public reluctance (and/or inability) to attend vaccination appointments.
Hesitancy towards vaccines is the result of a conscious ‘cost-benefit’ analysis – although it must be said that this is often passive and subliminal. We can be aware and believe in the protective benefits of vaccination while at the same time conclude that the associated costs are far greater. Previously, these costs focused on side effects and lack of perceived need, but now include COVID-19 risk through having to travel to and enter a high-risk area, such as a GP’s surgery.4
While we can see a vaccine as the panacea to the pandemic, the lived experience and immediate reality for people doesn’t match up. The public are far more worried about the aggregate risk of the virus to the country as a whole than they are to themselves personally. Persuading people to take the vaccine will therefore also need to be about it being a pro-social act, for the good of the country, as much as for oneself. A global study on behalf of the World Economic Forum shows three in four adults globally would be likely to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once available, but the majority do not believe this will happen before 2021. Concern around side effects and efficacy are the biggest barriers to uptake.5 But this suspicion is highest among people with a wider scepticism of science and authority, and among those who rely on social media for their news.6