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Vaccine hesitancy in India an issue with COVID-19, survey suggests

Covid-19. Red liquid vaccine in glass tubes.. Cases of COVID-19 illustration. Image credit: Ivan Uralsky. vaccine hesitancy concept
Image credit: Ivan Uralsky

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a vaccine has acted as a beacon of hope. Yet vaccine hesitancy is high. In India, a survey suggests almost sixty percent of the population in the world’s second worst-affected country may refuse a vaccine. 

Vaccine hesitancy as it pertains to the novel coronavirus (severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 or SARS-Cov-2, which causes the disease COVID-19) is a concern worldwide. This comes against the backdrop of considerable progress. As Nature reported last month

“Large clinical trials of four vaccine candidates are showing remarkable promise, with three exceeding ninety percent efficacy — an unexpectedly high rate — according to results released so far. None reported worrying safety signals and one has shown promise in older adults, a demographic that is particularly vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 but which sometimes responds less well to vaccines.”

However, that same article noted “researchers and policymakers must consider how to deal with challenges not related to the vaccine candidates themselves. These include vaccine hesitancy; weariness with current public-health restrictions; and the staggering logistics of vaccinating the world population. Although the finishing line seems to be in sight, there is still much difficult terrain to cross. 

“Some people are understandably concerned that the speed of both scientific review and vaccine regulation could compromise safety — despite vaccine developers’ and regulators’ assurances to the contrary. To build confidence in vaccination, it’s important that regulators, companies and their research partners keep promises they have made to ensure transparency, publish data and engage with open discussion of those data as they arrive.”

In October, Nature published the results of a survey conducted across nineteen countries with 13,426 participants. India ranked among the countries involved. That survey said that “71.5 percent of participants reported that they would be very or somewhat likely to take a COVID-19 vaccine, and 61.4 percent reported that they would accept their employer’s recommendation to do so.” However, a recent survey in India indicated a substantially lower level of willingness – and a higher level of vaccine hesitancy.

LocalCircles conducted a survey covering in excess of 25,000 people in India across 262 districts. Of the participants, 59 percent suggested they would be reluctant to accept a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine in 2021 if available.

Overcoming vaccine hesitancy in India will only add to the challenges of administering a vaccine to a population well in excess of 1.3 billion people. As my colleague Nicholas Parry wrote recently for Health Issues India, “with an effective and safe vaccine potentially on the horizon, India now faces the logistical nightmare of administering a vaccine as rapidly as possible to avoid further socioeconomic disruption, to a population well in excess of one billion people.”

Countering vaccine hesitancy is a core component. Vaccine hesitancy is far from a new issue. Skepticism surrounding immunisation is a long-standing thorn in the side of public health authorities. When we have a proven COVID vaccine, it must be addressed. Does India have the ability to do so remains the question. 

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