People who are hesitant about taking a COVID-19 vaccine know less about it and fail to see the benefits

Lack of knowledge and awareness of the benefits is linked to some people’s hesitancy to take a COVID-19 vaccine, according to new research by the ESRI’s Behavioural Research Unit (BRU). The researchers conducted a knowledge test and a survey of attitudes on a nationally representative sample of the Irish population.

In the study, funded by the Department of Health, a sample of the general population aged over 18 completed a series of tasks designed to find out what they think about the vaccine, how much they know about it, what they see as the greatest risks and benefits, and whether they plan to take it.

The participants did a multiple-choice quiz that tested what they knew about the effectiveness of the vaccine, the development process, side effects and whether they would have to pay out-of-pocket for it. The minority of participants planning not to take the vaccine, or who were unsure, scored substantially more poorly on the quiz than the majority planning to take it. Those planning to take the vaccine got an average score of 67 per cent, compared with 50 per cent for those who were unsure and just 37 per cent for those planning not to take it.

Participants also listed their thoughts about the risks and benefits of the vaccine. Most people listed at least one risk, but there was a big difference in listing of benefits. Only 5 per cent of those planning not to take the vaccine and around 50 per cent of those who were unsure listed any benefit at all. This compared to 91 per cent of people planning to take it.

The research also found that the less people followed news coverage about COVID-19, the less likely they were to want to take the vaccine. “These results suggest that some people who are unsure about taking the COVID-19 vaccine may not know enough about it”, said Dr. Deirdre Robertson, lead researcher on the study. “The results suggest that providing factual information about how the vaccine was developed and tested, and the real-world effectiveness of the vaccines at preventing illness may bridge this gap in knowledge.”

“Since we collected this data, the numbers wanting to take the vaccine have risen steadily, perhaps reflecting improved knowledge and recognition of the benefits that the vaccine brings,” said Professor Pete Lunn, Head of the BRU. “But the study shows that a minority of the population do not follow the news about Covid-19 and may take longer to realise how effective and safe the vaccines are.”