An effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine is on the horizon. Still, a majority of people in the Netherlands say they’d rather not take a vaccine as soon as it becomes available, but wait instead. They are concerned about the potential risks of the vaccine. This conclusion comes from analysis of a choice experiment among a representative sample from the Dutch population. The experiment was done by researchers from Dutch universities (TU Delft, University of Maastricht, Erasmus University Rotterdam), the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment as well as Roskilde University.
From November 18th the main results are available at www.tudelft.nl/covid-vaccin (in Dutch)
“Our research shows that, in a good scenario when a vaccine is very effective and has few side-effects, 29% of the respondents will directly choose to vaccinate, whereas 48% still would like to wait to see what the experiences of others are, and 13% refuses to be vaccinated. The willingness to vaccinate is considerably lower when a vaccine is less effective or when severe side effects occur more often. In that case, a large majority of respondents will either want to wait, or refuse the vaccine altogether”, says researcher Niek Mouter from TU Delft.
Elderly more willing to vaccinate
Dutch people who doubt whether to vaccinate directly or to wait, mainly worry about the risks of side effects. They wonder if these risks are larger due to the considerable shorter development time compared to other vaccines, and, in case of side effects, if they can still go to the doctor when many people are suffering from these effects, and hospitals are already busy with COVID-19 patients. They also wonder if it is smart to vaccinate when many long-term effects of the vaccine are still unknown, and worry about the effectiveness of the vaccine in case the coronavirus mutates. The group who is still on the fence about vaccination is large in all strata of the Dutch society, but the willingness to vaccinate directly is clearly higher among the elderly than among young people.
Make policy for doubters
The current public debate in the Netherlands focusses mainly on those who refuse to vaccinate and there is little attention for the relatively large group of people who are in doubt. The researchers recommend a clear perspective should be given to this large group, especially those who belong to risk groups who may be invited for the first rounds of vaccinations, but who would rather wait a little while. If they do not directly accept the invitation to vaccinate, will they join the back of the line? Will they receive periodic invitations? Or are they allowed to wait and show-up whenever they feel they are ready? If they find it too risky for themselves due to a weak constitution, are they then allowed to let someone else take their ‘spot’, such as a caregiver or close family member? These are some of the questions raised based on this research that may impact policy choices.
Good information is important
Mouter mentions that many express a need for information about the risks for side effects: “General information does not suffice. Many of the doubters want information about the side effects among people of the same age, or with the same conditions such as diabetes, overweight, or heart problems. It is not only important to continuously monitor the occurrences of these side effects, but also to communicate these in a good and transparent manner. This may increase the willingness to vaccinate among the Dutch population”.