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Let’s not waste time

18 September, 2020

The race to develop a Covid vaccine is well and truly on, with vaccine trackers in major news outlets providing us with daily updates on progress. But the time, investment, regulatory oversight and potential risk to the health of the volunteers will only be worth it if the public actually takes up the vaccine when it’s available.

An opinion piece from Prof Heidi Larson from LSTHM and Johnny Heald from ORB International outlines how developing an effective vaccine is only half the challenge. Larson created the Vaccine Confidence Project in 2010 and, with the support of ORB, has explored global attitudes towards vaccinations in over 60 countries. They understand better than anyone the public health disaster of low vaccine uptake, and their latest piece suggests that, particularly in the UK, we’re at risk of rendering any Covid vaccine significantly less effective.

Experts estimate that between 60-70% vaccine coverage is needed to achieve herd immunity, meaning those most vulnerable in society who are not able to receive a vaccine are protected from contracting Covid. But research shows that only 71% are willing to be vaccinated in the UK, with 14% saying they would refuse to. Back in March, only 5% said they would refuse it.

This worrying trend reflects a similar pattern seen globally, and demonstrates public concern around safety of implementing a ‘new and all-too-fast’ Covid vaccine. Larson and Heald argue that similar levels need to be invested in promoting public confidence as have been promoted in developing the vaccine to ensure uptake and optimise its impact. In the same way that public opinion and behaviour change campaigns can sway our political alignment and prompt us to submit our tax returns, we can’t underestimate the importance of investment in public health campaigns and engagement to build trust and confidence in a vaccine, and make sure all that time and money doesn’t go to waste.

By Jennie Mitchell

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