Covid ‘vaccine hesitancy’ in England and Wales is being overcome, study finds – The Guardian

More than four in five people who said last December they were either uncertain about or intended to refuse a Covid-19 vaccine had changed their mind by February and had accepted a jab or planned to, an analysis has found.

Researchers tracked responses of 14,713 adults in England and Wales over the two months, finding that the change was consistent across all ethnic groups and all levels of social deprivation. The results are encouraging given minority ethnic people have been hit hardest by Covid but are among the least likely to take up the vaccine.

“We were really sort of taken aback by the sort of the magnitude of the shift,” said the study’s author, Dr Parth Patel of University College London.

“What we’re showing is that vaccine hesitancy has changed. Everyone is pretty keen to take a vaccine right now … that doesn’t mean disparities in vaccination rates will disappear,” he said.

Lower vaccine uptake among ethnic minorities and people who live in deprived areas is not just down to vaccine hesitancy, he stressed: it also has to do with structural barriers to accessing healthcare.

In the analysis, 1,432 respondents said “no” or “unsure” to the question “would you accept a Covid-19 vaccine if offered?” in December 2020. Of these, 1,233 (86%) went on to respond “yes” or “already had a Covid-19 vaccine” in February 2021.

This shift was observed across ethnic groups, ranging from 72% of vaccine-hesitant changing their minds in people from mixed ethnic backgrounds to 90% in people from south Asian ethnic backgrounds. Concerns about both Covid-19 illness and coronavirus vaccines influenced “vaccine intention”, the authors said in their analysis, which is still to be peer-reviewed.

Despite the encouraging shift in attitudes, some disparities in vaccine intention persist. Young adults, and people from black and white other ethnic backgrounds, were more likely to intend to refuse or be unsure about taking a Covid-19 vaccine, compared with older adults and white British people, the researchers found.

For instance, 25- to 35-year-olds were almost nine times more likely to intend to refuse a Covid-19 vaccine in February than over-75s, even after accounting for factors such as sex, ethnicity, deprivation and underlying health conditions.

So, what caused the big change in intentions over this relatively short time period? Those factors are still to be determined, said Patel. The NHS’s efforts to address vaccine hesitancy and public health campaigns alongside people seeing their family, friends and peers getting vaccinated are potential explanations, he said.

“What we’ve seen is a big shift in two months –– and there’s nothing to say wouldn’t go back the other way. This intention – it changes over time, it’s not fixed … hopefully, it’s a trend we will continue to see.”

Although the analysis included a substantial number of people from ethnic minorities, the authors cautioned the sample was not fully representative of the national population. Given participation in the analysis (derived from the UCL Virus Watch study) is voluntary, the cohort is also probably biased toward people concerned about Covid-19 – which may lead to an overestimation of national vaccine intention.