Australians are substantially more hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccination now than they were six months ago, according to researchers from The Australian National University (ANU).
This insight comes at a critical moment. Pfizer vaccine doses are poised to be rolled out across the country next week.
The research was based on a survey that has been tracking more than 3,500 Australians since before the pandemic began. It found that in January 2021, over one-fifth (21.7%) of participants will probably or definitely not get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.
“This is a large and significant increase from the 12.7% of Australians who said the same thing in August 2020 when vaccines were still being developed and trialled,” says co-author Nicholas Biddle, from ANU.
Around 31.9% of Australians became less willing to get a vaccine over this same time period, while only 9.9% became more willing. The largest change, according to the report, was that 18.7% of Australians went from “definitely willing” to “probably willing”.
“Worryingly, as we get closer to administering a vaccine more Australians have cooled on the idea of getting one,” says Biddle. “The challenge now is to work out why and how we can address that.”
The groups who became less willing were more likely to fall into certain demographics – including women, Indigenous Australians, those who speak languages other than English at home, and those who have not completed high school.
“These population groups are arguably the most urgent focus of any public health campaigns to improve willingness,” Biddle says, and suggests expansion of public health information in other languages, as well as conveying information in a reassuring and informative way for people of all educational backgrounds.
The survey also captured key reasons why Australians are turning away from the jab – including people who think the pandemic has been exaggerated, those with low confidence in hospitals, and those who are not optimistic about the next year.
“While not a magic bullet, a vaccine and its successful delivery across our society is absolutely crucial to Australia’s COVID recovery,” Biddle says.
A full copy of the report is available on the ANU website.
Lauren Fuge is a science journalist at The Royal Institution of Australia.
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