Vaccine hesitancy fuelled by need for more information on side effects and safety

Date: 22 January 2021

New research by The Young Foundation reveals that concerns over side effects are the main driver of vaccine hesitancy. A nationally representative survey of 2,005 UK residents confirms that only just over half of people (57%) are keen to take the vaccine as soon as possible. 

“I would definitely take it. Because of my COPD condition, every time I have to go out to the shops I think that I am taking chances with my life and it makes me full of dread.” (Male, 65-74, Wales)  

Almost a quarter (22%) report needing “more information” before making their decision, with over half of those wanting to know more about any side effects (58%), and almost a third (30%) still seeking reassurance about the safety and rigour of the trials process. Just over a quarter are also keen to understand more about the efficacy of the vaccine or how long immunity will last (28%). 

“Other vaccines have taken years to come out … it feels very rushed and I don’t feel right at all knowing how quickly it’s been produced. I also believe a vaccine can sometimes do more harm than good if it’s not absolutely perfect which frightens me a lot due to the effects could be irreversible.” (Female, 18-25, Scotland)  

A further 14% report simply preferring “to wait” a while before taking up the vaccine – again, largely driven by concerns about side effects (34%) and safety (24%), although almost two-fifths of those who would choose to wait say that their aim is to ensure those in need get access first (38%). 

And opinions differ across the UK nations, with Scots unveiled as the most cautious (40% want to wait or need more info and 54% would take it as soon as possible) and Wales was the most keen (71% would take it as soon as possible, with only 25% wanting to wait or needing more info). 

These findings have important implications for public health messaging and the information provided in invitations to vaccine appointments as the UK ramps up its vaccination programme. 

The study also reveals public divisions over the idea of vaccine passports, as UK government funded start-ups race to develop and trial digital solutions. 

When asked whether organisations and businesses should be able to ask for proof of vaccination, for example to allow admission to certain venues or events, 56% supported the idea, with 26% endorsing blanket rules, and 30% considering it acceptable if medical exemptions – certified by a doctor – were allowed. The public debates and controversies over self-exemption of mask wearing have clearly hit public confidence, with only 8% considering this acceptable for vaccine passports. 

The idea of vaccine passports is rejected outright by almost a third (31%), and is particularly unpopular among young people (rejected by 41% of those under 35, compared to 19% of those aged over 65) and households with children (rejected by 45% of single parent families; 39% 2+ adult family). 

“I suspect that the idea might be floated that vaccinated people could have some kind of ‘covid-free pass’ giving them unrestricted access to things like pubs, clubs, workplaces, not wearing a mask. Although it makes sense logically, I’m not sure this would be a good idea as it could lead to deep resentment, division and a feeling of some people being second-class citizens.” (Female, 25-34, Yorkshire)   

Victoria Boelman, Director of Research at The Young Foundation comments: Controversy and misinformation surrounding the vaccine has been hitting headlines in recent weeks, so it’s interesting to see the data unveil what the British public need in order to alleviate fears. Public health messaging must provide clear reassurance over the low likelihood of side effects and underscore the rigorous trials regime that has underpinned their development. Views on vaccine passports are divided and this raises concerns about further entrenching the inter-generational divides and distrust that we have seen grow over the course of the pandemic.” 

This data is based on a nationally representative telephone survey of 2,005 UK adults carried out between 27th November and 30th December 2020. The data forms part of the Covid & Community Life Study being carried out by The Young Foundation, funded by a Public Engagement grant from The Wellcome Trust 

For media enquiries: please contact Sarah Hogg, Comms Manager at The Young Foundation on sarah.hogg@youngfoundation.org or on 07940 281470. 

 

About The Young Foundation 

The Young Foundation’s mission is to develop better connected and stronger communities across the UK. We research in and with communities to increase your understanding of community life today. We offer different methods and approaches to involve communities and grow their capacity to own and lead change. We provide tools and resources to support innovation to tackle the issues people and communities care about.