Study Finds Significant Drop in Vaccine Confidence During COVID-19 Pandemic

In a 2019 survey, middle-aged participants were considerably more apprehensive about getting vaccinated than younger groups, which was not the case in the 2022 survey.

Confidence in the efficacy and safety of vaccines experienced a significant decline since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic despite ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaigns, according to a study published in Vaccine. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Portsmouth, collected data from 2 anonymous surveys done in the winters of 2019 and 2022 to evaluate attitudes toward vaccinations and the factors that may cause hesitancy and refusal.

After comparing responses from more than 1000 adults, researchers found that the post-pandemic survey showed considerably less confidence in vaccines than the pre-pandemic survey.

The study also found that nearly 1 in 4 participants reported a decline in confidence since 2020, which was observed regardless of age, gender, religious belief, education, and ethnicity.

“While vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon, COVID-19 vaccines have been met with particular hostility despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness,” said Alessandro Siani, MD, associate head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, in a press release. “This isn’t just among conspiracy theorists though, but also those who don’t consider themselves ‘anti-vaxxers’ and had supported other vaccination campaigns in the past.”

The participants were asked how much they agreed with statements such as whether vaccines are safe, whether vaccines should be a compulsory practice, whether they believe getting vaccinated would benefit the wellbeing of others, and whether vaccines are necessary for health and wellbeing.

In both surveys, participants with strong religious beliefs were significantly more vaccine-hesitant than those identifying as atheist and agnostic. Black and Asian participants were more found to be hesitant than those of White ethnicities. Gender showed no association with vaccine confidence.

Although the overall trends were largely similar between the 2 surveys, some significant changes were observed in the post-pandemic survey. The analysis revealed, for example, that while in 2019 middle-aged participants were considerably more apprehensive about getting vaccinated than younger groups, this was not the case in the 2022 survey.

“This could be because COVID-19 infections notoriously lead to more severe outcomes in older patients,” Siani said in the press release. “Young people who are infected rarely experience severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization and death, so it’s possible that many have become complacent and don’t feel the need to get vaccinated. On the other hand, older people may have been more wary of the consequences of the infection, and more appreciative of the protection offered by the vaccine.”

Study limitations included the original survey being designed as a standalone piece of research, therefore a different group had to be sampled in 2022.

“We didn’t expect a worldwide pandemic to break out only a few months after carrying out the 2019 survey. Because our findings don’t reflect the changing opinions of the same group of people over time, but rather a comparison of responses provided by two different cohorts, they should be interpreted with a grain of salt,” Siani said in the release. “However, the study is consistent with other observations suggesting that vaccine confidence may be yet another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic."

REFERENCE

Study reveals vaccine confidence declined considerably during COVID-19 pandemic. EurekAlert! November 7, 2022. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/970262