As the world races to develop an effective and safe vaccine candidate against the Covid-19 coronavirus, public perception and trust will be pivotal among the millions of people in the countries actually accepting it.
And judging by the latest results of a survey titled A global survey of potential acceptance of a Covid-19 vaccine, published in Nature Medicine journal on Tuesday and presented at the opening ceremony of the 51st Union World Conference on Lung Health, many countries still have a long way to go.
South Africa was one of 19 countries participating in the online survey, in which random sample sizes per population were taken –ranging from between 619 and 773 participants per country – which the study’s authors said were demographically representative.
The researchers specifically chose 19 countries among the 35 most affected by the pandemic in terms of cases per million population.
The aim of the survey, which included the opinions of 13 426 people in total, was to determine the potential acceptance rates and factors influencing acceptance of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Of these, 71.5% of respondents said they would take a vaccine if it were proven to be safe and effective, and 61.4% said that they would be vaccinated if their employers recommended it.
But, there was marked diversity in approval in the country regions. For instance, countries where acceptance exceeded 80% tended to be Asian, such as China, South Korea and Singapore, where citizens strongly said they trusted their governments.
There was also a relatively high tendency towards acceptance in middle-income countries such as South Africa, Brazil and India – with at least 81.58% of people in the local sample responding positively to the question: “If a Covid-19 vaccine is proven safe and effective, and is available, I will take it”.
However countries such as Russia and Poland trailed just under the 60% level of acceptance rates, scoring 54.85% and 56.31%, respectively.
“Although most people are likely to accept a vaccine against Covid-19 if one is proven safe and efficacious, the hesitancy of those who refuse vaccination could stall global efforts to achieve community immunity and ultimately end the pandemic,” said Jeffrey Lazarus, who is head of the Health Systems Research Group at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health and the study leader. He was speaking at a virtual press briefing at the sidelines of the conference.
He continued: “This is the first public study to specifically evaluate the global acceptability of a vaccine against Covid-19 and we’re concerned by regionally low levels of acceptance. The reasons for this vaccine hesitancy need to be understood and addressed or else there’s a risk of delaying global control of the vaccine.
“We argue that authorities must do more than simply announcing a vaccine to be safe and effective; acceptance building strategies need to address community-specific concerns and historic issues for distrust and need to be sensitive to philosophical, cultural and religious beliefs.”
Speaking during the conference opening ceremony, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO’s) director-general, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus noted the heavy toll on health services for many diseases, including TB, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid-19 is a stark reminder that the simple act of breathing is fundamental to life, and of the devastating effects of anything that takes our breath away, including tuberculosis, tobacco and air pollution. This microbe attacks the lungs, but its effects are felt far beyond, in families, communities, health systems, societies and economies,” he said.
“The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on services for many diseases, including TB, with sharp drops in TB notifications reported to the WHO from several high-burden countries. This could lead to an additional 400 000 TB deaths this year alone.”
Last week the WHO warned in its 2020 global TB report that the Covid-19 pandemic would cause 200 000 to 400 000 excess TB deaths in 2020, effectively eroding a decade of progress.
“But we cannot allow the pandemic to become an excuse for failing to deliver on the commitments we have made to end TB, tobacco and air pollution. The pandemic will end. But TB, tobacco, air pollution and other lung diseases will continue to steal the breath and life of millions of people every year,” Ghebreyesus stated.
On the topic of the long-awaited TB vaccine, Grania Brigden, director of the TB department at the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union), said: “At last year’s conference, we had exciting results presented on the M72 vaccine and that vaccine candidate is continuing to progress. However, if you were to compare the speed at which that vaccine has progressed and [consider] that this time last year there was no Covid-19 vaccine candidate and now we’re sitting with a number of vaccines [over 100] in late stage clinical trials, I think it shows that, while the TB vaccine is progressing, it’s not at the speed of investment and urgency we’re seeing with the Covid-19 vaccines. TB may have been around for a long time, but it requires the same urgency and we’re long overdue with that focus and with innovations to truly end TB.”
The conference continues until Saturday.