TARGETED public health messaging to tackle Covid-19 hesitancy in low uptake groups must be deployed by decision-makers, according to Stirling researchers.

Experts from the University of Stirling's Institute for Social Marketing and Health (ISMH) and the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) led a survey of almost 5,000 adults in the UK to explore vaccine intentions and the implications for communications and targeted support.

The study found that vaccine hesitancy was a particular issue in non-white British ethnic groups, in younger adults, and among those with lower education, greater financial hardship and those who believe that they have already had the virus.

While UK acceptance has been generally high, there have been concerns about uptake among sub-populations and in other parts of the world.

It is hoped the findings will help to inform approaches to addressing vaccine hesitancy in low-uptake groups, as vaccine programmes continue to progress worldwide.

Martine Stead, deputy director of ISMH, led the study which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and also involved University College London Great Ormond Street Institute for Child Health and St George's University of London Population Health Research Institute.

MS Stead said: “Our research provides a new and important insight into vaccine hesitancy – and this is a vital issue because it can threaten comprehensive vaccination in populations.

“We considered vaccine intentions of almost 5,000 UK adults in the early stages of the vaccine roll-out and explored important issues, such as the factors behind acceptance and trust in information sources.

“The results indicate that targeted engagement is required to address vaccine hesitancy in non-white British ethnic groups, in younger adults, and among those with lower education, greater financial hardship and unconfirmed past infection.

“Healthcare professionals and scientific advisors should play a central role in communications – as they are regarded as the most trusted – and tailored messaging is needed for hesitant groups.

“Work is also needed to rebuild trust in government information.”

The survey informing the study was conducted just week after the vaccine roll-out got under way in December 2020.

While 87 per cent of white British participants indicated vaccine acceptance, this fell significantly in other ethnic groups.

Researchers also found that the likelihood of acceptance increased with age.

Ms Stead added: “A novel finding of our study was that there was lower vaccine acceptance among those with unconfirmed, but suspected, Covid-19.

“This suggests that prior infection is presumed to provide immunity, or that recovery fosters a perception of decreased severity.

“However, further research is required to explore why those who suspect they’ve had COVID-19, but not had it confirmed by a test, are less likely to accept the vaccine.”

The full study is available at BMJ Open.