What do people in BRICS countries think about a COVID-19 vaccine?

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Workers at the packaging facility of the Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, developing an experimental coronavirus vaccine in Beijing, China. Photo by: Thomas Peter / Reuters

MANILA — Vaccine hesitancy will prove a steep challenge for global efforts to find a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine and ensure its equitable distribution, new evidence suggests.

About 28% of 13,400 individuals from 19 countries would hesitate to get, or completely refuse, a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a study published Tuesday on the opening day of the 51st Union World Conference on Lung Health. The study surveyed respondents from some of the countries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including those that make up the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

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Respondents from China had the most favorable response when asked if they will take a COVID-19 vaccine that is proved safe and effective when available, with 58% of the 712 people surveyed saying they completely agree and 30.6% saying they somewhat agree. This was followed by the 717 respondents in Brazil, with 67.1% completely agreeing and 18.3% somewhat agreeing.

In South Africa, 81.6% of 619 people responded positively to the question. In India, 74.5% of 742 respondents expressed acceptance of a COVID-19 vaccine. Rates of vaccine acceptance also range from 60%-80% for other countries in the survey, except for France, Poland, and Russia, where just over half of respondents agreed to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Russia’s 680 respondents had the lowest vaccine acceptance rate, with only 26.6% completely agreeing and 28.2% somewhat agreeing to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. They also had the second-highest rate of vaccine skepticism after Poland: 27.3% of respondents in Poland completely or somewhat disagreed with receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, while this figure was 26.3% in Russia.

The rates of vaccine acceptance and skepticism, however, varied when respondents were asked if they would follow their employer’s recommendation to get vaccinated once their government has approved a vaccine and deemed it safe and effective. In this case, vaccine acceptance dropped to 36% in Brazil and 27% in Russia. Only 45.6% of respondents in South Africa said they would completely or somewhat agree to the recommendation.

The survey found vaccine acceptance was higher among older people compared with those under 22 years old, although this changes when asked whether they would take a vaccine if recommended by their employer. Vaccine acceptance was also higher among respondents who earn more than $32 a day, as opposed to those earning below $2 a day. People who had COVID-19 or who had relatives fall sick with the disease were not necessarily more accepting of a COVID-19 vaccine than other respondents.

Those who said they trusted their governments were more likely to accept a vaccine, leading authors to underscore the importance of clear and consistent communication by government officials to build public confidence in a COVID-19 vaccine and other vaccine programs. This includes explaining how vaccines work and are developed, the process of ensuring vaccine safety, and vaccine effectiveness.

Study authors noted that a number of factors affect vaccine decisions and that these can change over time. Multiple events concerning COVID-19 vaccine development have taken place since the survey was conducted in June, which could lead to higher levels of vaccine hesitancy. These include pauses in COVID-19 vaccine trials and reports of political pressure for a COVID-19 vaccine approval.

Since the survey was conducted, the Russian government has also approved its Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine — the first country to do so — despite not yet completing late-stage clinical trials.

In the U.S., 11.3% of respondents were hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the survey. But a poll published last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed 54% of 1,199 respondents would not want to receive a vaccine approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and made available to the public before the presidential election in November.

Last week, another poll conducted by the foundation, together with ESPN’s The Undefeated content platform, showed 49% of African Americans said they will not take a COVID-19 vaccine.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.