Though 62 per cent polled citizens still hesitant to take the vaccine, number fell from 69 per cent in early January, of which 59 per cent are worried about side-effects while 18 per cent unsure about efficacy
A poll conducted by LocalCircles, a community social media platform, from January 16-18, timed with the roll-out of the pan-India COVID-19 vaccination drive, has reportedly showed a 10 per cent decline in the percentage of citizens hesitant to take the vaccine from December and early January.
A statement from the pollsters suggested that this decline may be largely due to the fact that people have watched and read about the vaccination drives kicking off in their own districts. Also, of the 2 lakh plus jabs administered in the first two days, only 450 or adverse events were reported so far, from the first phase of the roll out which started on January 16, prioritising inoculation of healthcare and frontline workers as they are the ones most at risk.
17,000+ responses were received in the January16-18 survey from citizens residing in 230 districts of India. 67 per cent respondents were men while 33 per cent respondents were women. 51 per cent respondents were from tier 1, 32 per cent from tier 2 and 17 per cent respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. They survey was conducted via the LocalCircles platform and all participants are validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey
LocalCircles has been collecting responses from citizens since October 2020 to understand their approach to taking the COVID-19 vaccine, aimed to understand if the percentage of reluctance or hesitancy has increased, reduced or remains unchanged along with reasons for hesitancy. 61 per cent of citizens in the October survey expressed hesitancy in getting the vaccine.
With vaccine makers – Pfizer and Moderna – announcing success on efficacy results, the aggregate percentage of citizens in India hesitant about the vaccine reduced to 59 per cent in the November survey. However, with one adverse event being reported for the Oxford-AstraZeneca-Serum vaccine and concerns about the trial process with one of Bharat Biotech partners the number rose to 69 per cent and was maintained till the first week of January.
The survey in January aimed at evaluating the changes in public acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccines post launch of the pan-India inoculation.
62 per cent of polled citizens hesitant to take it immediately
The question asked citizens about their willingness or hesitation to take the COVID-19 vaccine with it now being available in most districts of India. Of 8,658 responses, 32 per cent said they will take it, and 6 per cent said they will take it whenever it is available via private hospitals/channels.
Further, breaking down into the poll, 22 per cent said they will wait up to 3 months and then decide, 14 per cent said will wait 3 to 6 months, another 14 per cent said will wait 6 to 12 months, while 3 per cent said they will wait more than 12 months and then decide in 2022. The survey result indicated that 62 per cent citizens are still hesitant to take it immediately.
Per comparison with the previous surveys conducted by LocalCircles, there has been 10 per cent decline in the percentage of citizens hesitant to take the vaccine from December and early January. This may be largely due to the fact that people have watched and read about the vaccination drives kicking off in their own districts. Also, of the 2 lakh plus jabs administered in the first two days, only 450 or adverse events were reported.
Uncertainty about side-effects top reason for vaccine hesitancy
As a follow up to the first question, LocalCircles asked those expressing hesitancy about the key drivers of their stand. The following question asked citizens, “What is the primary reason for you being hesitant in taking the COVID-19 vaccine immediately?” Of 8,782 responses, 59 per cent pointed to unknown side-effects as the primary reason, while 18 per cent voted for “effectiveness unknown”. There were also 5 per cent who believe that the current vaccine may evade future coronavirus stains while 11 per cent citizens believe that COVID-19 is going away and questioned the rationale for a vaccine. Eight per cent of those hesitant could not elaborate why they were hesitant.
The LocalCircles survey indicated that vaccine hesitancy concerns among citizens continue to persist despite the vaccination process beginning, although there has been 10 per cent decline in the percentage of citizens hesitant, from 69 per cent in December 2020 to 62 per cent in January 2021.
The LocalCircles release alludes to reports about unknowns on the side effects which continue to be a key concern amongst people and top reason for hesitancy. In Bhopal, for instance, in early January, a 42-year-old volunteer died nearly ten days after he participated in the clinical trial for Covaxin via a private hospital People’s Group, with Bharat Biotech maintaining that the individual died of poisoning independent of the vaccine. Many other volunteers in Bhopal have also come forward alleging Covaxin is causing them various ailments after participating in the trial. Earlier in late November a trial volunteer for Serum-Oxford-AstraZeneca came out alleging that they had a severe adverse event post the vaccine.
Efficacy is another concern reported by people with 18 per cent of those hesitant calling it out as a key reason. While the efficacy level of Covishield is claimed to be 62 per cent when two full doses were given 4 weeks apart; however, the efficacy is not known for Covaxin. Those taking Covaxin must sign a consent form stating that the efficacy is yet to be established. Such unknowns seem to be denting the confidence of a group within those hesitant.
11 per cent citizens in the survey say they won’t take the vaccine because COVID-19 is going away anyways. With COVID-19 daily case load reducing by almost 300 per cent in last 4 months from 90,000 in September to 15,000 in January and now majorly concentrated in three states, some tend to feel why vaccinate now when COVID-19 cases are not happening. Over 400 districts across the country are now reporting less than 20 cases a day.
About 5 per cent of the respondents believe that new coronavirus strains like E484K or B.1.1.7 may evade the current vaccine and hence they must not rush into taking the vaccine. While Pfizer has claimed that its vaccine solves for the B.1.1.7 strain, scientists have reported that E484K strain found in Brazil is found to be neutralising COVID antibodies and hence may require an update to the existing vaccines for them to be effective against it.
As the Government continues with vaccination drive, LocalCircles believes that national, state and district level dashboards must be made available and popularised among the masses with information on total vaccinated, adverse events reported and their details be made available to people on fingertips. Such steps will help build the confidence of people and address their hesitancy. The fact that scientists, world over and in India have been able to develop a vaccine in less than 12 months is truly amazing and a first in its kind.
The statement suggests that by making all possible information available transparently and easily, the Government and the vaccine makers can address concerns of the population currently hesitant and get them onboard in the fight against COVID-19.