Research sheds new light on vaccine hesitancy in UK & Ireland

Young women are significantly less likely to say they would accept a Covid-19 vaccine, a new joint Irish-UK research project has revealed.

The vaccine hesitancy study carried out by the University of Huddersfield, in collaboration with NUI Galway, Ireland, canvassed the views of 1,000 people online in the UK and Ireland, recording their attitudes and intentions in relation to Covid-19 vaccination programmes.

To date, there have been almost 250,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland while more than 1 million people have had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. In the UK there have been more than 4.4 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 34 million people have had a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Dr Kola-Palmer, Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology, within the School of Human and Health Sciences at the University of Huddersfield, said, “To keep the momentum of the successful vaccine roll-out, understanding vaccine hesitancy is key to addressing public concerns, promoting confidence and increasing vaccine uptake.”

Research findings

  • 75% of those who participated in the survey intend to get a Covid-19 vaccine; 11% said they would not; and 14% said they were unsure.
  • Women, ethnic minorities and younger people were significantly less likely to report intention to avail of a Covid-19 vaccine.
  • Those who receive the majority of information about Covid-19 from social media or word of mouth were significantly more vaccine hesitant.
  • In the UK, vaccine hesitancy was higher in respondents from a BAME background than those from a white background.
  • In Ireland, vaccine hesitancy was higher in women than in men.

Dr Jane Walsh, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Director of the Mobile Technology and Health (mHealth) Research Group at NUI Galway, co-leader of the project said, “It is possible, that one of the reasons behind young women’s reluctance to signal an intention to get a Covid-19 vaccine is related to issues around fertility and this warrants further investigation.”

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Peer influence

The study also revealed that peer influences are strongly associated with respondents’ intentions on vaccination.

Dr Walsh said, “This influence was particularly strong in the ‘no’ and ‘unsure’ group. These findings suggest that messages that are channelled through relevant social influencers may have a significant impact on vaccine uptake. It is also concerning that those who vote ‘no’ to the vaccine have a lower sense of civic responsibility. But what is clear, in general, is that there is still a high level of uncertainty around Covid-19 vaccination.”

Developing trust

The research team also cautioned that positive attitudes towards vaccination are far less likely to be driven by fear messaging but rather by developing a stronger message of trust in the government and authorities.

Dr Kola-Palmer said, “We can shift attitudes and intentions to Covid-19 vaccine from ‘unsure’ to ‘yes’ if public health campaigns provide clear messages about the benefits, as well as clear information on the low risks associated with having the vaccine and promote a positive sense of civic responsibility.

“Trust in authorities is a significant barrier among people who have no intention of being vaccinated. Public health experts and governments should consider strategies to address this. Personalised messaging needs to be targeted at young people, and women and ethnic minorities in particular, to address their concerns. And it needs to be made a priority.”

The study also found that people were more likely to signal intention to get a vaccine if they had more positive vaccine attitudes, lower vaccine risk and higher vaccine benefit beliefs, higher levels of civic responsibility; and if they were more likely to adhere to public health guidelines in general.

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