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Global confidence in the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines appears to be on the rise, but perhaps not quickly enough.
An effective immunisation programme has long been hailed as a route out of the pandemic, with experts repeatedly stressing the jabs have not been rushed.
While many are eager to get vaccinated and return to life as we once knew it, scientists from Imperial College London have reported just 54% of its survey’s 13,500 global respondents would take the jab if it was offered to them next week.
Perhaps reassuringly, this is an increase from November, when only 41% were willing to get vaccinated.
In the UK specifically, three coronavirus jabs have been approved: Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca-University of Oxford and Moderna.
Despite strong evidence these vaccines are both safe and effective, the French European affairs minister has said the UK took “enormous risks” in granting their approval, defending the slower jab roll-out in the EU.
Faster approval has meant 10 million Britons have now received their first coronavirus vaccine dose, according to health secretary Matt Hancock.
Speaking of the Imperial study, its author Dr David Nabarro said: “It is very encouraging to see that as a number of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out across the world, there has been an apparent positive shift in people’s perceptions of these products.
“As vaccines will play a vital role in controlling the pandemic, leaders must act now to help more people understand the benefits of being vaccinated against COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] and make sure no one is left behind.”
The Imperial survey has unveiled stark differences in vaccine hesitancy across the 15 countries it was carried out in.
The UK was found to be the most pro-jabs, with almost four in five (78%) willing to have the vaccine, followed by Danes at 67%.
A previous YouGov survey similarly found four in five (80%) Britons are willing to have – or have already had – a coronavirus jab, making it the second most pro-vaccine country out of 24 nations.
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The Imperial results suggest France is set to have the worst uptake, with more than two in five (44%) saying they will not have the vaccine.
Nevertheless, the number of French people who strongly agreed to have the jab doubled from 15% in November to 30% in January.
In Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, however, willingness to get vaccinated fell over that period.
Perhaps reassuringly, concerns over vaccine side effects have declined in nine of the 15 countries, with less than half (47%) of the respondents worried about adverse events.
Amid concerns of severe allergic reactions to the Pfizer-BioNTech jab, scientists from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported just 21 anaphylaxis cases had arisen after more than 1.8 million vaccines were administered, with none of the patients dying.
The clinical trials that led to the three coronavirus jabs being approved in the UK similarly demonstrate their safety, with the vast majority of side effects being mild and fleeting.
In the Imperial study, two-thirds (66%) of the respondents understood jabs are important for public health.
The Imperial research follows an announcement by the French president Emmanuel Macron, stating the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will only be administered to residents under 65.
Germany’s vaccine regulator also recommended people over 65 bypass that jab, citing a lack of efficacy data.
Clément Beaune, the French European affairs minister, similarly told LCI TV: “You see, the United Kingdom has taken fewer precautions than ourselves.”
On 28 January, Boris Johnson joined Public Health England (PHE) in defending the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, with evidence demonstrating the jab “provides a good immune response across all age groups”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE, acknowledged there had been “too few cases” of the coronavirus among older participants in the AstraZeneca-Oxford phase 3 trial to be certain of of its efficacy in this age group.
Nevertheless, she added other data on the vaccine’s immune response are “reassuring”.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford jab is the only vaccine in the UK’s arsenal with evidence it wards off coronavirus transmission, rather than just protecting against severe disease.
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