Let the Roll Out Begin – Vaccine Hesitancy, Dilemmas and Division  

Published: December 2020

Authors: Alice Bell, Eve Avdoulos, Jana Tauschinski, Victoria Boelman

As part of our Covid-19 and Community Life study, generously funded by a Wellcome Trust public engagement grant, we are excited to be sharing the fourth snapshot of our insights in a new report on vaccines. 

Download the report

In recent weeks, the news has been scattered with announcements about vaccine developments- with three potentially effective vaccines making headlines. Just days before the first ‘milestone’ was announced, with results from the Pfizer/BioNTech trials demonstrating 90% effectiveness, we asked our digital diary-keepers for their views about a Covid-19 vaccine. Now, this vaccine has been approved for widespread use in the UK and vaccinations will begin imminently.  

Whilst a vaccine has been presented as a ‘silver bullet’ that could solve all our problems, our research reveals a significant sense of hesitancy. Only 45% of our panel expressed that they will definitely take it, with over one third (35%) saying they were unsure and needed more information and one fifth saying ‘no’ to a Covid-19 vaccine 

So, what are the wider implications of vaccine hesitancy in the longer-term context of a recovery from the coronavirus pandemic? Could a vaccine create more problems than solutions for community life?  

Our research highlights three key challenges to community cohesion, which could be further exacerbated by the divided views on the vaccination programme: 

  1. Distrust: A lack of trust in vaccines is symptomatic of a lack of trust that has built up throughout the pandemic. 
  2. Division: Divergent views about a vaccine could intensify fractures within our communities. 
  3. Dilemmas around Distribution: Questions about how to fairly distribute the vaccine once again pit the interests of different groups against each other. 

To face these challenges, we suggest that there is a need to help people make better decisions. The problem is not a deficit of information– but too much conflicting information. Thus, what can, and should, be influenced is how easily people can find high quality, reputable, public health information. 

In addition, there needs to be a focus on uniting, not dividing. Policymakers must account for the fact that they need to respond to a diversity of views – focusing on finding ways to bring us together rather than perpetuating the blame culture.  

Overall, a vaccine marks the beginning of a recovery from this crisis. Whilst distrust and divisions predate the pandemic, we should set out as we mean to go on: rather than allowing the vaccine to intensify these problems, a focus on healing could mark the start of an inclusive recovery which works towards creating a fairer society. 

You can download and read the full report here. 

This project is exploring how Covid-19 is changing our relationships, interactions and experience of community in real-time.  It uses both a digital platform, whereby around 140 participants are currently sharing their stories and experiences online, supplemented with phone interviews with 30 people who do not have access to, or feel comfortable using, digital devices. We are focusing on three key themes: 

  1. How the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting interactions between individual in society 
  2. How the role of the digital realm plays a role in community response 
  3. How individuals and communities relate to science and research 

The Covid-19 & Community Life project builds on the Covid & You research we carried out earlier this year. Funded by a Wellcome Trust public engagement grant, the research aims to give a more nationally represented sample of participants, capturing the diverse voices we find throughout the UK.