PolyU research reveals a “rising then declining” trend in vaccine hesitancy
The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for more than two years, far longer than anyone could have expected. Since the initial outbreak in 2020, the government has imposed various restrictions and has continued to adjust its pandemic control strategies from time to time. These strategies, however, have been met by different levels of adherence by the public.
Supported by the Health and Medical Research Fund administered by the Food and Health Bureau, PolyU has conducted a longitudinal study to investigate Hong Kong residents’ adherence to various COVID preventive measures and their intention to receive vaccines. The study, which randomly sampled 1,225 people aged 18-85 years old, comprised three stages of phone interviews during the 4th and 5th waves of the pandemic in Hong Kong. Findings have been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and Vaccines.
According to the findings, a “rising then declining” trend in vaccine hesitancy amongst the respondents was observed. The first round of phone interviews was conducted at the beginning of the 4th wave of the pandemic when the public vaccination programme had yet to have been launched. The majority of the 1,225 respondents reported adhering to the preventive measures suggested by the government, while 58% also indicated reluctance to receive COVID vaccines.
One thousand and three respondents were contacted six months later to track their actual vaccination status. The second round of interviews was conducted three months after the COVID-19 Vaccination Programme had been launched (note: the Programme officially launched on February 26, 2021). One in four respondents (24%) reported that they had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The third round of interviews was conducted during the early stage of the 5th wave of the pandemic, which was twelve months after the first round and almost a year since the start of the COVID-19 vaccination programme. At that time, over 80% of respondents had received at least one dose of COVID vaccines. The main reasons given include to: meet workplace vaccination requirement (57%), ensure personal health (55%) and the health of family members (51%), respond to the call from the government (32%), and prepare for quarantine-free travel and restriction-free social activities (32%).
Findings show that respondents’ intentions to vaccinate changed over time. Vaccine hesitancy and refusal rates had dropped to 42% in the third round from 58% in the second round. Professor Elsie Chau-wai Yan, Associate Head of the Department of Applied Social Sciences, PolyU who led the research, commented that, “Intentions to receive vaccines are associated with the intensity of the pandemic waves and the toughness of anti-pandemic measures.”
Findings also revealed that people were more reluctant to receive jabs during the less severe 4th wave of the pandemic. However, when Omicron-led infections started to sweep Hong Kong and the government began to implement vaccination requirements, both intentions to vaccinate and actual vaccination rates climbed to a higher level. The team suggested that the government should further review vaccination incentives and adopt a two-pronged approach (via “policy” and “education”), to enhance people’s awareness of and confidence in vaccines.
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