Coronavirus | Study warns of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

“Many even among medical community may not take COVID-19 vaccine immediately”

As the country readies to implement its COVID-19 vaccination programme, vaccine hesitancy could be an issue that the government needs to address forthwith. The results of an online survey showed that there was considerable hesitation even among the medical community to take the vaccine as soon as it is available.

In an online study conducted by Abdul Ghafur, Coordinator of the Chennai Declaration, and infectious diseases consultant at Apollo Hospital, Chennai, among 1424 health professionals, only 45% said they will take the COVID vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Fifty-five per cent will either defer the vaccination or are yet to decide what to do. About one-tenth of the respondents said they will never take the vaccine.

Interestingly, 869 of the respondents had worked in a COVID hospital or unit.

In India, it is expected that about one crore healthcare workers will be vaccinated first. “It is the health care professionals who should be educating the public on the need for COVID vaccines, since they closely follow the developments and their word carries weight with the people,” says Dr. Ghafur. Therefore, vaccine hesitancy in this group is worrisome, also because it might percolate down to the general population.

Responses from participants reflected their concerns about the efficacy of the vaccine and fear of side effects. “We need to address this urgently, scientifically” he adds, quoting from another recent online survey by the agency Local Circles, where 59% of the public surveyed said they preferred to defer vaccination.

“A vaccine is one of the essential weapons in the armamentarium in our war against the pandemic,” Dr. Ghafur says. “Any hesitation in accepting the vaccine will have a negative consequence on our effort to control the pandemic. We should proactively address the reasons behind this hesitancy.”

Chirag Trivedi, President, Indian Society for Clinical Research, adds: “It is very important to give confidence to the public by discussing the robustness of various processes involved in drug/vaccine development — clinical trial designs, conduct, monitoring, analysis, reporting and the regulatory reviews that happen before it is approved. This will make the public aware about the rigorous processes followed for clinical trials, and the approval, as followed by regulators.”

Dr. Ghafur points to a mathematical model done by a team of U.S. scientists that has recommended preferentially vaccinating sero-negative individuals first. His survey among health professionals also indicated that 64% prefer to do an antibody test before vaccination. That is also an option that the government could use, he adds.

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