Richard Dobbs

How should we tackle vaccine hesitancy?

As Britain celebrates its vaccination success, we’re in danger of missing something important. A great many people have been offered the vaccine, but have turned it down — and we hear very little about them. No. 10 briefings trumpet the numbers vaccinated in the past 24 hours but are silent on the numbers who have refused. This matters, because if vaccine passports are on their way, granting access to pubs and so on, the unvaccinated will be excluded. More importantly, the unvaccinated will be vulnerable to the virus as we unlock. We need to know more about them.

Dig deep enough and rough figures are there. Let’s look at the over-seventies in England. According to data from Oxford University’s OpenSAFELY analytics platform, just 4 per cent of white people in this group are unvaccinated: a hugely impressive number, beating expectations. But among those described as ‘black African’ the proportion is almost ten times as great, at 37 per cent. From another source, those in the poorer London boroughs are seven times more likely to have declined a jab than their peers across the rest of the country. We need to get better at understanding the underlying reasons for declining the jab — and how to address these concerns.

We have achieved the phenomenal success of offering vaccinations to all of the nine ‘at risk’ groups — the over-fifties, care workers or anyone with a serious medical condition. These groups represent around 99 per cent of those who died from Covid-19 during previous waves. But the vaccines do not totally stop infection and transmission by those vaccinated: the latest American trial of the AstraZeneca jab shows 76 per cent effectiveness in this regard. This implies that, of those vaccinated, one in four remains vulnerable to getting and spreading the virus.

Addressing hesitancy could be the next way that our vaccination programme leads the world

When shops, pubs and more reopen soon, around half of the population will still not be vaccinated.

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