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expert reaction to the latest, non-peer-reviewed data on public acceptance of a possible COVID vaccine

Data from the ongoing UCL COVID-19 Social Study looked at public acceptance of a possible COVID vaccine


Prof Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, said:

“The results about vaccine hesitancy among some people underscore the importance of making a vaccine against COVID readily and widely available and easy to get. Research shows that easy accessibility is an important factor determining vaccine uptake.”


Prof Helen Bedford, Professor of Children’s Health, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, said:

“Vaccine uptake in UK is generally very high. When people are deciding whether to accept vaccines, the information they need includes how safe is the vaccine, how well it works, how many doses are needed.

“As we do not have a coronavirus vaccine yet, we cannot answer these questions; those answers will come from the vaccine trials currently being carried out. So to find that nearly 8 out of 10 people surveyed would accept a vaccine against coronavirus without that fundamental information, is very encouraging.

“However, what this study does not tell us is people’s specific reasons for saying they would be unlikely to accept a vaccine. We need to understand those so that we can provide the information needed to enhance public confidence.”


Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Vaccines are the safest and most effective method we have to protect us against infectious diseases and save lives. Beyond the benefits of individual protection, having a high proportion of the population vaccinated can stop the spread of the infectious disease in its tracks and protect whole communities.  To be able to achieve this, we need many factors in place including having accessible vaccination services and making sure those services are properly funded. However, as this new report from University College London makes clear, public attitude and confidence in vaccines are also crucial.

“The concerns highlighted by this report over uptake of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, and indeed all vaccines, are a real worry for public health. Once any future COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective, promoting high uptake will be critical to stopping this disease spreading through our communities. We have already seen the huge benefits that vaccines bring in tackling other infectious diseases and stopping our children from getting sick – for example, it’s estimated 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been averted in the UK since the introduction of a vaccine. We need to maintain and increase uptake across all current vaccines and for any future vaccines that might become available.

“To combat people’s concerns around vaccination, it’s vital that the public have easy access to reliable, evidence-based information on how vaccines work and why they are important. To build trust and improve confidence in any future coronavirus vaccine, both government and the scientific community need to continue to be open and honest with people to explain the vaccine development process and to create high profile opportunities to actively engage with the public to answer any questions they might have.” 


Prof Gino Martini, Chief Scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said:

“There is a real challenge in enabling people to overcome their worries about vaccinations, which are often based on inaccurate information they’ve heard or seen online. Scientific evidence and public trust are at variance to some extent but vaccines have played a significant role in preventing the spread of many diseases. They are why smallpox has been eradicated and there hasn’t been a case of polio caught in the UK since the mid-80s.

“Effective vaccines for coronavirus will be a central plank to protecting the health of all of us, especially the most vulnerable, and helping us all back to a more normal way of life. But for vaccination to work and establish immunity across communities, we need the public to embrace them as they have done for years with regular flu vaccinations.  Vaccines will only be used if their benefits far outweigh the risk, a principle which underpins all medicines development.”


Dr Nilufar Ahmed, Behavioural Psychologist at the University of Bristol, said:

“Understanding public perception about vaccines for Covid is key for public health planning. For contagious illnesses like Covid, decisions to not vaccinate impact not only the individual but pose serious risks for the wider public they have contact with.

“Whilst it is encouraging that a high number (78%) of people say they would get a vaccine when one is available, the finding that older adults display greater concerns about side effects of the vaccine and a preference for natural or ‘herd’ immunity is concerning given the elevated risks from Covid in older groups.

“The finding that almost three quarters of older adults were likely to get a flu vaccine compared to 58% who would be likely to get a Covid vaccine indicates that it is not vaccinations in themselves that are problematic, rather the message and information that is attached to them. The Government’s initial message of seeking ‘herd immunity’ may have psychologically impacted the preference of older people going forward, and we will need to have strong information campaigns to encourage uptake in this vulnerable group.”




The latest part of the UCL Covid-19 Social Study by Daisy Fancourt et al. went online at 00:01 UK time Thursday 24 September 2020.



Declared interests

Prof Bedford is a collaborator on a study of public views about coronavirus vaccine.

Dr Brown is a trustee of the Association of Medical Research Charities

Prof Martini: no interests to declare

No others received.

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