Vaccine Hesitancy Isn’t Unique to the U.S., Survey Shows

Getting the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine was a seven-hour long endeavor for Meera Chotrani — a physical therapist living in Mumbai, India — and her son.

Her son, an internationally acclaimed squash player and international student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, was required by his university to get vaccinated before returning to campus in the United States. While the two faced little difficulty in getting their first dose in early June, obtaining AstraZeneca shots at a private clinic, by the time their 28-day waiting period had passed and they were ready to get their second dose, there was a major shortage of vaccines in their area.

Chotrani and her son went to two different vaccine distribution centers only to be turned away by both because of vaccine shortages. At one of the sites, a government-run hospital, they were told that the only way to get a vaccine would be to come in another day and get in line at 5 a.m. to secure a spot for when the center opens at 9 a.m., as hundreds do every day. Finally, at the third site — Chotrani’s alma mater — the two were only able to obtain vaccines through connections she still had from her time in college there.

[MORE: COVID-19 Vaccination Rates by Country]

The two had spent over five hours traveling between the spaced out vaccination sites and an additional two hours waiting in line before finally getting their shots, pointing to the massive time privilege necessary to obtain a vaccine at the height of India’s vaccine shortage.

Now, since vaccines have become more accessible in India — with the country surpassing its daily record for administered doses on Sept. 24 — 16.8% of India is fully vaccinated and 46.4% have received at least one dose.

However, despite the hurdles that stood in the way of obtaining the vaccine, a survey by Morning Consult — a privately owned data intelligence company — found that only about 5% of people in India were unwilling to get or uncertain about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The survey — updated weekly — collected 49,177 interviews in the United States and between 2,289 to 4,577 interviews of nationally representative samples of adults in 14 other countries between Sept. 14 and Sept. 20. The survey was conducted among the literate population in India.

“Everyone has gone through hell in our country,” Chotrani says, referencing India’s especially high death toll. “So they want to get better, they want to move on.”

Major disparities in vaccine access exist between wealthy and developing countries — with the World Health Organization reporting earlier in September that 73% of vaccines worldwide were distributed in just 10 countries. Regardless, vaccine hesitancy still remains prevalent in some of the countries receiving the most supplies while low and middle-income countries appear more willing to accept the vaccine — despite the fact that only 2.3% of people in low-income countries globally have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

[MORE: Global Vaccines Project to Overhaul Distribution Rules]

The United States has been one of the primary recipients of vaccines in the world. However, in contrast to India, over a quarter of United States residents included in the Morning Consult survey reported that they were either unwilling to get vaccinated or uncertain about the vaccine.

Vaccine hesitancy and opposition in the U.S. exist for a multitude of reasons, ranging from political beliefs to mistrust of medical professionals to concerns about potential side effects.

“Science needs to succeed over politics,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Programme at an event hosted last week by the GZERO media company that focused on rebuilding the economy post-pandemic.

[MORE: Countries With the Most Well-Developed Public Health Care Systems]

“We need a healthy debate on vaccines all the time — these are medical products that are going into our fellow human beings and to ourselves, and we all want to know that these are safe and effective,” he said. “We want to have our questions answered and we need to get very good at answering those questions. But we also need to recognize that there are people who profit from, or who benefit from, proactively putting out misinformation — be that financial benefit or be that political benefit. And we also need to be able to combat that.”

But large vaccine hesitancy is not confined to the U.S. The Morning Consult survey revealed that Russia, an upper-middle income country that has been at the forefront of vaccine research, reported the highest figures of vaccine hesitancy among its respondents, with 48% of Russian participants either unwilling to get vaccinated or uncertain about the vaccine.

Across all the countries surveyed, the two primary reasons for vaccine hesitancy were concerns about potential side effects and over the speediness of the clinical trials.

“People have questions, genuine questions, that require answers,” Ryan said. “There is misinformation out there and we need to combat the misinformation by not attacking the messages, but by getting better at creating the good information channels that people can access.”

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