Coronavirus vaccine hesitancy could lead to thousands of extra deaths over a two-year period, new research has suggested.
Experts say high numbers of people refusing to take the jab could increase the mortality rate by up to eight times compared with ideal vaccination uptake when restrictions are relaxed.
Vaccine hesitancy is a delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability, and has the potential to threaten the successful rollout of Covid-19 vaccines globally, according to a new report.
The latest report by the Imperial College London Covid-19 response team evaluates the potential impact of vaccine hesitancy on the control of the pandemic and the relaxation of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).
The analysis combines an epidemiological model of coronavirus transmission with data on vaccine hesitancy from population surveys.
The team estimates that vaccine hesitancy would lead to an extra 236 deaths per million population over a two-year period for a vaccine with high efficacy.
In addition, the authors demonstrate that high vaccine hesitancy could prolong the need for NPIs, for example social distancing, to remain in place.
The team emphasises that addressing vaccine hesitancy with behavioural interventions is an important priority in the control of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Daniela Olivera Mesa, of Imperial College London, said: “Getting vaccinated is an individual choice, however this choice has social consequences.
“Our work demonstrated that vaccine hesitancy can have a substantial health impact that affects both the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.
“Building trust in vaccines is an important public health priority to control Covid-19.”
Professor Azra Ghani, also of Imperial College London, said: “Our work demonstrates the importance of achieving high levels of vaccine coverage if we are to return to a normal way of life.
“Vaccine hesitancy has declined in the UK in recent months but uptake remains unequal.
“It is important to understand the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy so that those that remain uncertain about getting vaccinated can have their concerns addressed.”
The hesitancy scenarios are compared to an ideal counterfactual assuming no vaccine hesitancy, in which the researchers assume that a small proportion (2%) of the population will be ineligible to be vaccinated due to contraindications.
They modelled each scenario with both a high and a moderate vaccine efficacy profile that represents the range of efficacies of currently approved vaccines.
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