While COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rose around the world between 2021 and 2022, wide gaps remain, according to new research.
Teams from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health in Spain (ISGlobal) and City University of New York (CUNY) also noted the need to address vaccine hesitancy with tailored communication strategies.
“The pandemic is not over, and authorities must urgently address vaccine hesitancy and resistance as part of their COVID-19 prevention and mitigation strategy,” said lead researcher Jeffrey Lazarus, head of the health systems research group at ISGlobal.
For the study, researchers surveyed people in 23 countries that were hard hit by the COVID pandemic. Collectively, those nations include more than 60% of the world's population.
Worldwide, acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines grew from 75.2% in 2021 to 79.1% last year, the survey found.
Meanwhile, vaccine acceptance decreased in eight countries: United Kingdom, South Africa, Turkey, Mexico, Kenya, Ghana, China and Brazil.
Nearly 1 in 8 respondents who had been vaccinated were hesitant about receiving a booster dose. That was particularly true among younger men and women.
Lazarus and Ayman El-Mohandes, dean of the School of Public Health at CUNY, started the surveys in 2020 in highly populated countries, including Canada and the United States.
The new findings are from their third survey, which was conducted between June and July of 2022. About 1,000 people were surveyed in each country.
Increased hesitancy varied from 1% in the United Kingdom to 21.1% in South Africa.
Meanwhile, parents' willingness to vaccinate their kids rose slightly from 67.6% in 2021 to 69.5% in 2022.
“We must remain vigilant in tracking these data, containing COVID-19 variants and addressing hesitancy, which may challenge future routine COVID-19 immunization programs,” senior author El-Mohandes said in an ISGlobal news release.
The survey also turned up new information on COVID-19 treatments. It found that ivermectin, a drug used to treat or prevent parasites in animals, was used to treat COVID-19 with the same frequency as approved medications. The World Health Organization and other agencies recommend against using ivermectin.
Nearly 40% of respondents reported paying less attention to new COVID information than they had before. They also had less support for vaccine mandates.
Depending on the country, vaccine hesitancy was associated with female sex (such as in China, Poland and Russia); with having no college degree (in France, Poland, South Africa, Sweden and the United States); and with lower income (in Canada, Germany, Turkey and the United Kingdom).
“Our results show that public health strategies to enhance booster coverage will need to be more sophisticated and adaptable for each setting and target population,” Lazarus said, adding that messaging should emphasize compassion over fear and be delivered by trusted individuals, especially health care workers.
The researchers said the data could be useful for health system decision-makers, practitioners, advocates and researchers to more effectively address vaccine hesitancy.
The findings were published Jan. 9 in Nature Medicine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 vaccines.
SOURCE: Barcelona Institute for Global Health, news release, Jan. 9, 2023