Vaccine hesitancyWorldwide Vaccine Hesitancy Poses Risk to Ending Pandemic

By Steve Baragona

Published 3 May 2021

The results of a new poll show that vaccine hesitancy worldwide poses a risk to ending the COVID-19 pandemic for good. In 79 out of 117 countries surveyed, the number of people who said they were willing to be vaccinated was below 70%, the minimum percentage of the population that scientists say needs to have immunity to stop the virus from circulating. 

The results of a new poll show that vaccine hesitancy worldwide poses a risk to ending the COVID-19 pandemic for good. 

In 79 out of 117 countries surveyed, the number of people who said they were willing to be vaccinated was below 70%, the minimum percentage of the population that scientists say needs to have immunity to stop the virus from circulating.  

Attitudes shift when vaccines arrive, though, experts note, and many of the countries have not begun mass vaccinations yet.  

But the numbers “give a glimpse of just how strong the headwinds are in some of these places,” said Julie Ray, managing editor for world news at polling company Gallup, which conducted the survey.  

Gallup contacted about 1,000 people in each of the 117 countries, mostly late last year. 

In 20 countries, most polled said they would not be vaccinated. In Russia, for example, 61% of people said they would refuse a vaccine; in Kosovo, 56% would refuse; and in Senegal, 55%. 

Overall, based on the results, the survey estimates that more than 1 billion people of the 7.6 billion worldwide would not get vaccinated. 

Health officials are aiming to get enough people vaccinated to reach “herd immunity,” a state in which the spread of the disease slows dramatically because the virus has a hard time finding new people to infect.  

The more the virus circulates, the more opportunity it has to mutate into dangerous new variants that can undermine vaccines. 

Scientists do not know exactly when a population reaches herd immunity, but the best estimate, often cited, is when 70% to 90% have protection. 

In total, 68% of people surveyed said they would be vaccinated, just short of the lowest end of the threshold. 

It’s a big deal,” Ray said.

Vaccination is not the only factor in herd immunity. Natural infections also contribute. Some countries in which vaccine rollout is under way are seeing sharp declines in cases long before vaccines reach 70% of the population. 

But questions remain about the strength of the immune response to natural infection, its length and whether emerging variants can overcome it. Many of these questions remain unanswered concerning the COVID-19 vaccines as well. 

The ‘Moveable Middle’
The survey was conducted before vaccines began to roll out anywhere. Attitudes have probably shifted somewhat already, Ray said, as hundreds of millions of shots have been given and media coverage has been widespread.  

The United States is a good example of how opinions change once vaccination starts. But it also shows the limits of how much can change.  

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