(Bloomberg) — Eddie Rice is a believer in vaccines. The Melbourne locksmith has received jabs in the past and understands that they go through rigorous testing before they’re rolled out. This time, as researchers sprint ahead with potential shots to protect the world against Covid-19, he’s not so sure.
“This is a pretty unique one, just because it’s going to be so quick,” said Rice, 29. “I don’t know enough of the science to know 100% that it’s safe.”
Governments and drugmakers have long faced skepticism, and even hostility, from a small but vocal group of anti-vaccination campaigners. In the battle against the coronavirus, they may also run into reluctance from a broader swath of the population — people like Rice who would normally be on board.
Fading trust in governments, political interference and the dash to create a shot in record time are sowing doubts. Temporary halts to studies because of unexplained illnesses in volunteers — a part of vaccine development that doesn’t usually make headlines — add to the anxiety. These misgivings could hobble the high-stakes quest to slow a pathogen that’s killed 1.1 million people.
Assuming immunizations can be successfully developed, mass produced and deployed, vaccine advocates will need to convince enough people the shots are key to ending the crisis. In a survey of 20,000 people conducted over the summer, more than a quarter of respondents said they wouldn’t get a Covid shot. Russia, Poland, Hungary and France had the lowest support, the World Economic Forum and Ipsos study showed.
The effort to overcome that sentiment will start with health workers. Medical staff are at heightened risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others, and will likely be among the first to get immunized. Any worries they have about the quality of a vaccine could hamper wider acceptance.
Nor should their support be taken for granted. Medical workers would be careful not to damage the trust they’ve earned by promoting a product they don’t have faith in, said Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, a union in the U.K. representing nurses, paramedics and others in the field.
“If health-care workers are going to be expected to advocate for the vaccine, then their natural concerns will have to be addressed in advance,” she said. “It’s not going to help with take-up if you go to have your jab and the person who gives it to you isn’t able to say reassuring things.”
A study in Hong Kong earlier this year found that only 63% of nurses expressed a willingness to get a potential Covid shot. It cited uncertainty over effectiveness, side effects and how long protection would last. Support was higher as cases surged, but slipped as infections ebbed, according to researchers including Kin On Kwok, an epidemiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
If less than two thirds of nurses during an outbreak intend to get immunized, “we anticipate that