The worrying trend of vaccine hesitancy

There has been a worrying rise in vaccine hesitancy since the introduction of various COVID-19 vaccines. (Image source: The Pharmaceutical Journal)

By Charlie Barwa | @charlieeeebarwa, Eva Blandis | @BlandisEva, Claudia Dichiera | @claudiadich and Tyson Ruch | @TysonRuch 

A recent study by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and Resolve Strategic found that almost 30 per cent of people surveyed were either “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This continues a worrying trend seen in other studies since the rollout of the vaccines.

The same study showed only eight per cent responded as “very likely” to receive the vaccine, and a further 14 per cent were “extremely likely”. 

In August 2020, a study by the Australian National University (ANU) found just over five per cent of all respondents would not get the vaccine, and a further seven per cent were hesitant. By January 2021, those numbers were eight per cent and 13 per cent, respectively. 

While people have been worried about the hasty production of the COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government has been quick to debunk myths and educate the Australian public about the vaccines’ safety. 

Immunology course coordinator at the University of South Australia, Dr Andrea Stringer, says the quick turnaround in the vaccines’ production should not concern the public. 

“The COVID vaccines have been developed quite quickly because the technology that has been used has been developed previously. It’s been a modification of current technologies,” she says. 

A significant factor contributing to COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is the unknown long-term effects. 

“Technically, you don’t know [the long-term effects]. Usually, with vaccines, if you’re going to have side effects they’re fairly short-term. We see them within days of having the vaccines,” Dr Stringer says. 

Despite worries about the long-term effects, more than 500 million people worldwide have had at least one dose of a vaccine and so far there has been no evidence of any long-term issues

However, there is increasing concern regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine and its correlation with blood clots.

Dr Stringer says the blood clotting issues should not deter those eligible for the vaccine.  

“When you look at the numbers, the benefit outweighs the risk.” 

A minority of the Australian public believe vaccines have lasting and negative impacts on overall health and wellbeing. 

There are some who believe the vaccine is either ineffective or actively harmful.

Vaccine hesitancy spokesperson, Karyn Prelc, vaccine hesitancy spokesperson, is adamant that homoeopathic methods are more effective in fighting diseases than vaccines. 

“Your body will get sick for only three reasons: there’s a physical problem, there’s a chemical problem or an emotional problem,” she says.

Ms Prelc believes that her chiropractor and naturopath are effective in maintaining her health, whether that be physically, chemically or emotionally. 

However, Dr Stringer denies that natural medicines are successful in combating diseases, specifically COVID-19. 

“Natural therapies do not stimulate the specific immune system in a way that will provide long-term immunity against things,” says Dr Stringer. 

Ms Prelc is mostly hesitant about vaccinating minors, including her three children.

“I don’t understand why you get a perfectly healthy child and inject it,” she says. 

Ms Prelc does not believe there is enough information about the COVID-19 vaccines in order to make a balanced conclusion about their effectiveness. 

“The big question is why are so many people not getting it?… I think the biggest answer could be that people are worried that it has been rushed. In Australia, we’re not at risk like other people in other countries,” she says.

“Where is the proof that people have immunity because of vaccinations?

“I believe there should be a follow-up blood test to see if immunity is being gained, but there is no way the government is going to do that. It could show that all this stuff is not working, and that wouldn’t be very good for their propaganda.

“It is a massive coincidence that the minute the vaccine campaigns start everyone gets sick,” Ms Prelc says.

Some of Ms Prelc’s concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine have been addressed by multiple studies that debunk widespread conspiracies relating to vaccinations.

The anti-vax conspiracy stems from fake news circulated through social media and other online platforms. 

Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent, Dr Karen Douglas, says when people become overwhelmed with new information and are confused, they might find comfort in a conspiracy such as the anti-vax movement. 

“When people are trying to make sense of a lot of information, or when they feel unsafe and insecure, conspiracy theories might seem to offer some answers,” she says.

“[People] need to feel safe and in control over things that happen.”

There has been some evidence that conspiracy theories have flourished since the outbreak of COVID-19, but Dr Douglas says this is not an unexpected development.

“This is not surprising because research suggests that conspiracy theories tend to flourish in times of crisis,” she says. 

“When people are trying to cope with difficult situations and their psychological needs are not being met, conspiracy theories might seem to offer some kind of solution.” 

Dr Douglas says while the internet has played a part in disseminating conspiracies, it has compounded an issue that was already present, rather than being the reason they exist.

“Rather than causing a direct increase in conspiracy theorising, it seems that the internet facilitates conspiracy theorising within communities or ‘echo chambers’ where people’s attitudes become more polarised,” she says.

The best way to combat vaccine hesitancy is to educate the wider public and ensure accurate information is easily accessible. 

If you have any concerns regarding COVID-19 vaccines, please visit SA Health or the Australian Government’s Department of Health COVID-19 information page

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