Thirty-four percent of people in Turkey and 17% of people in the UK report that they are “hesitant” about a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine, primarily based on the their beliefs regarding the origin of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), according to a study conducted by both University College London (UCL) and Dokuz Eylul University, Turkey.
In the study, the researchers surveyed more than 5000 participants in Turkey and the UK on their willingness to be vaccinated with a potential COVID-19 vaccine, as well as their beliefs on the origin of SARS-CoV-2.
According to the authors of the study, the results of the participants’ responses demonstrated a concerning level of hesitancy around their willingness to become vaccinated with an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.
"From an evolutionary point of view, natural selection should favor a bias towards making the least costly decision when there is uncertainty,” said lead author, Gul Deniz Salali, PhD, an evolutionary anthropologist at UCL, in a press release. “This is why when people face a choice between taking a specific action or doing nothing, they sometimes prefer to do nothing. This cognitive bias, called the omission bias, may kick in when people make vaccination decisions."
The authors explained that one of the key factors associated with acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine among participants was their beliefs regarding the origin of the virus. If participants believed in the natural origin of SARS-CoV-2, they were 26% more likely to accept the COVID-19 vaccine in Turkey and 63% more likely to accept the COVID-19 vaccine in the UK.
However, if participants believed in an artificial origin of the virus, such as beliefs regarding the virus being man-made, they were 54% more likely to be hesitant of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The researchers also found that those participants who had a higher level of concern about the pandemic, such as concerns regarding catching or passing the virus to others, had a higher likelihood of reporting their acceptance of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.
“Emotions can be seen as detectors helping us to avoid death or promote reproduction, especially under uncertainty,” Salali said. “The positive correlation between COVID-19 related anxiety and vaccine acceptance can be rooted in the adaptive function of anxiety in decreasing mortality risk.”
In light of these study findings, the authors emphasized that COVID-19 vaccine development alone may not be enough if an insufficient amount of people receive the vaccine, since a sufficient amount is necessary for widespread COVID-19 immunity.
The authors suggest that wider communication between the scientific community and the public on the origin of SARS-CoV-2 may help to target the vaccine hesitancy that is currently present.
Hesitancy about a COVID-19 vaccine is linked to beliefs about origin of the virus. Cambridge University Press; October 19, 2020. eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/cup-haa101920.php. Accessed October 20, 2020.