CQUni study shows gender, education, media use trends in COVID-19 vaccination reluctance

25 January 2021

The world is pinning its hopes on vaccines to slow the deadly COVID-19 pandemic' but a CQUniversity study has highlighted some of the factors driving Australians' unwillingness to get the jab.

Among the first Australian research to capture public sentiment about vaccines' the longitudinal study showed that across April to August 2020' one in 10 women were unsure about vaccinating' compared to just 7 per cent of men.

People with a tertiary degree were more willing to vaccinate (87 per cent) than people with certificate or diploma level of education (79 per cent)' and frequent traditional media consumers were more willing (89 per cent) than infrequent users (78 per cent).

Report co-author and CQUniversity Medical Science researcher Dr Andrew Fenning also noted that people affected by chronic disease were no more willing to vaccinate than the rest of the population.

"That result is a concern' because people suffering chronic disease are the group most at risk of more significant complications and hospitalisations'" he said.

"We need to understand why they're not alert to that risk' and how to better inform them to protect themselves."

"Particularly for people affected by chronic health conditions' getting facts from verified sources like primary health care providers such as GPs and state and federal governments is essential."

For participants who responded across both study sample points' responses also showed a slight decrease in willingness to vaccinate between April and August last year' down from 87 per cent to 85 per cent.

The shift also highlighted the different pandemic experiences of different states' with respondents in stage 4 lockdown-hit Victoria increasing vaccine willingness from 85 per cent to 89 per cent' compared to those not residing in Victoria dropping from 88 per cent to 84 per cent.

The study surveyed 2343 Australians and was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on Tuesday 19 January 2021. Dr Fenning's co-authors were Dr Stephanie Alley' Dr Rob Stanton' Professor Matthew Browne' Dr Saman Khalesi' Dr Susan Williams' Tanya Thwaite and Professor Corneel Vandelanotte.

With the Australian Government set to distribute COVID-19 vaccines from February' Dr Fenning said the findings could help guide promotion.

"Public campaigns to explain and promote the COVID-19 vaccine should target women' those with chronic health conditions' and people with certificate or diploma-level education' with messaging through non-traditional media channels via reputable sources'" Dr Fenning explained.

"We're already seeing these channels' like social media and internet lifestyle pages' have high rates of non-evidence-based health information – so public health campaigns are needed to reach those platforms' and address the disinformation head-on."

While the study shows vaccination willingness above the 60 per cent uptake rate required for herd immunity (for a vaccine that has 80 per cent efficacy)' Dr Fenning warned that complacency could have negative repercussions particularly for those with existing chronic health conditions.

"This research highlights that community attitudes to vaccination are not stagnant' even at the height of the pandemic last year they were shifting' and they will continue to shift'" he said.

"Public health messages about the vaccine need to recognise who in the community has concerns about the roll-out and to address those concerns' to maximise vaccine uptake and minimise future COVID-19 infections in Australia."

The CQUniversity COVID-19 Community Survey canvassed Australians in April' August and December last year' with questions about levels of health and wellbeing' as well as understanding of' and participation in' health-related behaviours. More results are yet to be released.

Read the full COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy study here: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/2/797/htm

To interview Dr Andrew Fenning contact Mary Bolling on 0419 398 667.