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Vaccine hesitancy hardens in richer countries


Governments and health workers in the seven richest nations will find it harder to vaccinate more people against Covid because those yet to have the jab just don’t want it, research shows.

Thirteen per cent of people of living in UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and the USA are unvaccinated – and 87% of them say that’s out of choice.

The two main reasons for not getting vaccinated are not wanting to and not having time, reveals a survey which measured views of 23,000 people in G7 (group of) countries against self-reported vaccine uptake. Researchers warn direct refusal suggests vaccine hesitancy may be hardening among minorities.

“To move towards Covid-normal lives, the more that vaccines are taken up, the better the overall public health protections,” said Brunel University London public policy specialist, Dr Manu Savani.

“By learning who is hesitant or distrustful of the vaccine and what factors encourage take-up, policy-makers can take sensitive and appropriate action to reach all groups in our community.”

From making it easier to get jabs, rolling them out further and raising awareness, through to mandates and financial incentives, G7 nations tried a raft of ways to boost vaccine uptake. Yet still many are unvaccinated – 16% in the UK, USA and Japan, which avoided Covid passes and tougher policies. That figure is 11% in Canada, France, Germany and Italy, which used more mandates and rules.

“On the one hand, the ‘harder’ policy approach is associated with higher vaccination rates,” said Dr Savani. “On the other hand, trust is higher in the UK, which has a ‘softer’ policy and less political unrest than countries like Canada and France, which both saw winter protests against Covid vaccine policies. There are trade-offs and no easy decisions for governments to take.”

Nearly a fifth of people in the G7 said they do not trust the vaccines. France was the least trusting, where only 67% said they trusted the vaccine, followed by the USA at 71%, with Italy and the UK the most trusting, both at 85%.

percentage of people vaccinated by country

The UK has avoided the degree of vaccine hesitancy seen in the USA, and fewer UK women refuse it compared with those in France. Yet more UK women distrust the vaccine than men and the study says we need to reach more women and people who feel ignored by politicians and use stronger campaigns to tackle misinformation and anti-vax campaigns on social media.

To build policies that work harder at encouraging people to take Covid jabs, the report urges decision-makers to take a closer look at anti-vax groups and vaccine-hesitant attitudes, and to realise unvaccinated people may be more diverse than thought. British Indians have slightly higher than average vaccination rates, while other minority ethnic groups report lower vaccination rates and more vaccine hesitancy. Younger people trust different sources of information than older people, which policy-makers need to know more about to persuade more people under 35 to have jabs.  And while parents are more likely to be vaccinated themselves, some have lingering doubts about the vaccine for younger children.

As autumn approaches, and with it the likely roll-out of new boosters, Dr Savani says “reaching and changing minority groups’ health behaviours is both a priority and a challenge.”


Who gets the vaccine?

  • People who are fully vaccinated are likely to be over 35, have a university or college education and in full-time work. They’re slightly more likely to be women.
  • Vaccinated people view ‘saving lives is more important than personal liberty’, and are risk-averse.
  • They are more likely to get news about Covid from conventional media than from social media.
  • They are significantly more likely to trust the vaccines, and institutions in general.
  • Vaccinated people are more likely to be politically left-leaning and less likely to describe themselves as religious.

Find out here about Brunel's research to inform public life