One-in-five Australians don’t want the covid vaccine

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Antibody blood testing for COVID-19 at JCSMR. Photo: Jamie Kidston, ANU.

A GROWING number of Australians are hesitant about the covid jab as the country begins rolling out the first dosages of the Pfizer vaccine, according to a new ANU report.

According to the survey of more than 3500 Australians, more than one-in-five (21.7 per cent) said in January 2021 that they probably or definitely will not get a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine once health officials notify the public that one is available.

“This is a large and significant increase from the 12.7 per cent of Australians who said the same thing in August 2020 when vaccines were still being developed and trialled,” study co-author Prof Nicholas Biddle says.

It’s the only longitudinal study available that tracked individuals prior to the pandemic and the only study that doesn’t rely solely on volunteer participants, Prof Biddle says. 

He says it provides key insights into why Australians say they won’t or are less likely to take a vaccine, with reasons given such as low confidence in hospitals.   

The study found that the largest single change in willingness was the 19.7 per cent of Australians who went from being “definitely willing” to get a covid vaccine to “probably wiling” to get one.

The groups who became less willing to take a vaccine include females, indigenous Australians, those who speak a language other than English at home and those who have not completed Year 12, says Prof Biddle.

“These population groups are arguably the most urgent focus of any public health campaigns to improve willingness,” he says. 

“This is because they have low willingness to start with, but also because there is the potential opportunity to bring their willingness back to what it was in August 2020 when there was a smaller gap with the rest of the Australian population.

“There is a real need to consider a significantly enhanced public health campaign in languages other than English.”

Prof Biddle says they also found that more than three-in-10 Australians, some 31.9 per cent, became less willing to get a vaccine between August 2020 and January 2021.

“In contrast, less than one-in-10 Australians, 9.9 per cent, became more willing to get vaccinated,” he says. 

Between August 2020 and January 2021, the number of Australians who said they won’t get the vaccine also jumped from 5.5 per cent to 8.4 per cent.

“There is also a need to convey information to the general public in a way that is informative, reassuring and salient for those without a degree,” Prof Biddle says. 

“We have been tracking Australians’ attitudes to getting a vaccine for months now, giving us powerful insights into what potential uptake will be like.”

Worryingly, Prof Biddle says as the country gets closer to administering a vaccine, more Australians have cooled on the idea of getting one. The challenge now is to work out why and how that can addressed.

“Clearly our leaders, policymakers and health experts need to work out why more Australians are unlikely to get a vaccine, particularly as it is about to be administered across the country,” he says. 

“While not a magic bullet, a vaccine and its successful delivery across our society is absolutely crucial to Australia’s covid recovery.”

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