Nearly Half of US Physicians See Barriers to COVID-19 Vaccine Adoption


In a survey of nearly 2000 physicians across 31 countries, nearly half of the physicians indicated that they see significant barriers to COVID-19 vaccine adoption for themselves and their adult patients.

In a survey of nearly 2000 physicians across 31 countries conducted between August 8 and 11, 2020, nearly half of the physicians indicated that they see significant barriers to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine adoption for themselves and their adult patients.

The survey, called the COVID-19 Real Time Barometer, was conducted by Sermo and is the thirteenth survey of its kind conducted by the company. These surveys are a part of an ongoing observational study designed to support an understanding of the impact of COVID-19 through the lens of the global physician community.

Among the most significant barriers physicians cited in the survey, the first was that many of their adult patients do not trust the safety of the vaccine due to potential adverse events (AEs). In total, 87% of physicians indicated that they thought this concern would hinder some of their adult patients from getting immunized.

The second most cited barrier to immunization against COVID-19, at 61%, was that some of their patients are concerned about the efficacy of the vaccine, leading them to believe it may not be worth the hassle of seeking it out.

Thirdly, 48% physicians explained that some of their patients believe they would not get the disease and/or the symptoms would not be problematic enough to cause them to need a vaccine against the disease.

However, such concerns regarding the safety, efficacy, and need for vaccines is not new to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a family physician, I’ve been treating patients with vaccines for over 40 years, and I often have to contend with patients’ trepidations, concerns and misinformation about the safety of vaccines,” said Roger Hofford, MD, Sermo member and associate professor, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and clinical professor of Family Medicine and Population Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, in a press release. “These same issues will likely also have an impact on the general acceptance of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Not only do we anticipate our patients will have safety concerns, many of our patients don’t feel they are at a significant enough risk to warrant a vaccine, adding one more hurdle to vaccine acceptance.”

In addition, some physicians may also have concerns regarding the current standards of the FDA around approvals and authorizations.

“Physicians want to prescribe with confidence, knowing that a treatment does what it is supposed to do with minimal side effects and without long-term consequences,” Hofford said in the press release. “With the FDA bar for entry requiring 50% efficacy, we may see a resistance from both physicians and patients—with patient misperceptions and preexisting fears about vaccines combined with a false sense of security contributing to a low rate of vaccination.”

In order to assess concerns around vaccine adoption among physicians, the researchers used the discrete choice experiment methodology. This methodology accounts for preferences among different vaccine attributes by asking physicians to select the vaccines they would recommend among a set of vaccine profiles. The attributes included in the survey were level of potential AEs, protection rate, immunity duration, dosing regimen, platform technology, testing history, and manufacturer type.

Based on information about vaccines currently being tested and the proposed governmental guidelines for such a vaccine’s approval, the analysis was also able to establish a profile for a “likely vaccine.”

The researchers assessed that a likely vaccine candidate would have a moderate level of potential AEs, a 70% protection rate, a 12-month immunity duration, a 2 dose regimen (eg, 1 dose and 1 booster in a month), a novel platform (eg, DNA or RNA vaccines), an established safety data set of 9 months from first patient (including 6 months of 30,000 individuals aged 18 and older), and be a treatment from an established pharmaceutical company.

Based on these attributes, physicians responded that they would be cautious when giving recommendations for such a vaccine. In total, 70% of physicians reported in the survey that they would recommend a vaccine of this profile to children, while 84% said they would recommend the vaccine to older patients and those at a higher risk.

When asked about recommendations for a best case vaccine profile with 24-month protection and mild potential AEs, physicians willingness to prescribe such a vaccine to children increased to 78%. For older, at-risk patients, that willingness increased minimally to 88%.

According to the physicians surveyed, they will be paying close attention to potential AEs and moderate attention to protection rate when considering a recommendation for a COVID-19 vaccine to patients.

“Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve all been overwhelmed with COVID-19 information and the constant change it has been invoking in our daily lives,” said Sermo CEO Peter Kirk in a press release. “When an FDA-approved vaccine becomes available, ensuring that healthcare providers are armed with tools to build trust and help educate their patients on vaccine safety and efficacy will be crucial to providing our communities with the information they need to make the most informed decisions to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”


Half of U.S. Physicians Say Patient Disbelief in the Risk of COVID-19 Infection Likely to Impact Widespread Vaccine Adoption. New York, NY: Sermo; August 20, 2020. Accessed August 28, 2020.

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