Survey suggests vaccine hesitancy is falling across Australia

Jolyon Attwooll

17/09/2021 3:18:56 PM

The results indicate a positive trend, but researchers say more work needs to be done to assess why some people are still not being reached.

Healthcare worker with COVID vaccine.
Vaccine hesitancy appears to be declining fastest among adults in Victoria but has dipped notably right across the country. (Image: AAP)

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy is falling along with unwillingness to be vaccinated, a recent survey indicates.
The results of the Melbourne Institute study released this week suggest reluctance is declining fastest among adults in Victoria but has dipped notably right across the country.
Associate Professor Margie Danchin of the University of Melbourne, who is Chair of Collaboration on Social Science and Immunisation (COSSI), described the results as a ‘good reason to be optimistic’. However, she told newsGP more work is needed to maximise the reach of the vaccination rollout.
The figures are from the ‘Taking the Pulse of the Nation’ survey set up by the Melbourne Institute in 2020 to measure Australians’ attitudes, including their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conducted every fortnight, the survey contains responses from 1200 people aged over 18.  
Researchers said the results show a sharp dip in hesitancy across Australia, falling from 20.3% on 20 August to 16.7% on 12 September, with the downward trend noticeable across all states.
They believe the results suggest Australia will meet an 80% vaccination target for adults provided there is sufficient supply of the vaccines.
In bullet point observations sent to newsGP, Associate Professor Danchin noted that hesitancy levels appear to be highest among younger respondents and women.
The figures also do not reflect rates of hesitancy in certain community and cultural groups where hesitancy rates are known to be higher, Associate Professor Danchin said.
She believes the main barriers to vaccination are still likely to be access rather than hesitancy and said more mobile and in-reach strategies are needed to reach people who have still not been vaccinated.
More work is also required to ‘understand key motivators to reach those unvaccinated’, she said.
It is a point that has been stated previously by Professor Julie Leask, a social scientist specialising in immunisation at the University of Sydney’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.
Professor Leask previously told newsGP the relative influence of hesitancy, motivation and access in vaccination uptake is not clear in Australia.
‘It’s as much about practical factors and confidence,’ she said. ‘And to what extent? We don’t know for sure. That needs to be measured really well, and in Australia, we don’t measure it that well.’
Associate Professor Holly Seale says with the vaccination rate rising, understanding hesitancy concerns is now increasingly important.
The rate of first doses across the country exceeds 70% the latest figures released by the Department of Health (DoH) show.
‘When states start to get to … 75% first doses, to be able to drill down to find out who the groups are [that] still need further support and outreach, this is where we’re going to need as much data as possible right now,’ Associate Professor Seale told newsGP.
‘I do have a concern that we’ll get to these double dose target figures and will not be funded to keep collecting this data.’
A separate study that tracked vaccine hesitancy, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, was discontinued in June.
In the last ABS study, more than a third of those aged 50–69 said they wanted a different vaccine than what was available to them at the time.
Since then, the dynamics of the vaccine rollout have changed exponentially, with Pfizer now available to all people 12 and older in several states and territories, with GPs allowed to follow suit.
This month, the Federal Government also called on GPs to reach out to vaccine hesitant patients where possible to encourage them to be part of the rollout.
In the latest Melbourne Institute survey, the number of those sitting on the fence is notably higher among adults aged 18–44, where 12.1% of respondents indicated they are not willing to be vaccinated, while 9.9% said they are still unsure.
However, this compares favourably to earlier in the year when more than 40% of that group declared they either did not want to take the vaccine or were uncertain about doing so.
As recently as 14 May, the survey recorded people unwilling or uncertain about the vaccine as standing at more than 35% across Australia.
According to the latest figures, the highest proportion of people who are either hesitant or unwilling to have the vaccine is now in Western Australia, with a combined total of 22.2%.
The number of people who declared themselves unwilling – ie more resistant to vaccination than those unsure about having it – is tracking highest in Queensland, with 13.4% of respondents in the state putting themselves in that category.
As for what the vaccination rate could eventually be, Associate Professor Seale says the country is in uncharted territory. She does not believe high immunisation rates among children can be extrapolated for adults, but said persistent hesitancy during the worsening outbreaks may give an indication of where the barrier lies.

‘It is a bit of a guesstimate,’ she said. ‘We may get up to 90%. Beyond that, I really don’t think we’re going to get there.’
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