What we have learned about vaccine reluctance and how to overcome it


“Tell Me About It” is a series in which students at Columbia University are invited to share their opinions and perspectives on issues related to their academic research and how they relate to the real world.

This column is editorially independent Columbia News.

COVID-19 vaccines are increasingly available to the general public in various countries. However, in many places the pace of vaccination has slowed down, presumably delaying herd immunity. Part of the explanation lies in vaccine-hesitant individuals, who resist vaccination for a number of reasons. Our research into the causes and potential solutions to vaccine reluctance, conducted in collaboration with Professors Sarah Daly and John Marshall of Columbia’s Department of Political Science, may help overcome this phenomenon.

In a survey conducted in January 2021, across six Latin American countries, we found that vaccine reluctance can be a major stumbling block for immunization campaigns. Only 59% of those polled said they would get vaccinated if a vaccine was available to them, well below the estimated threshold of at least 70% that experts deem necessary for herd immunity. Additionally, those interviewed said that on average they would wait 4.3 months before getting vaccinated, which would make the pandemic stand out and give the virus more time to mutate. When asked why they were reluctant to get the vaccine, respondents raised concerns about side effects, that the vaccine had been developed too quickly, and mistrust of the government.

So what can be done to reduce the reluctance to vaccinate?

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