UPDATED: Wednesday, March 3 at 12:45 p.m.
Just more than half of pregnant women surveyed across 16 countries would like to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, according to a study published Monday by Harvard School of Public Health researchers, who said the results show an obstacle to achieving herd immunity.
The survey was sent out to nearly 18,000 participants — pregnant women and mothers of children younger than 18 — in 14 countries with the highest incidences of Covid-19, in addition to Australia and New Zealand.
Overall, the survey found that 69 percent of women intended to vaccinate their children. Fifty-two percent of pregnant women and 73 percent of non-pregnant mothers indicated interest in receiving the vaccine for themselves.
School of Public Health research scientist and corresponding author of the study Julia W. Wu said lower vaccine acceptance rates in pregnant women compared to those among non-pregnant mothers may be due to a lack of clinical evidence regarding the vaccines’ effects on fetal health and pregnancy.
As a result, Wu said there is a need for physicians to better inform pregnant women of the risks and benefits involved in getting the vaccine.
Wu also said the researchers saw “huge geographic variation” in vaccine acceptance levels.
The survey found that vaccine acceptance was lowest in the United States, Australia, and Russia. Less than 45 percent of pregnant women and 56 percent of non-pregnant mothers in those countries indicated interest in getting vaccinated.
In contrast, India, the Philippines, and Latin America had the highest vaccine acceptance levels. In those regions, pregnant women and non-pregnant mothers reported 80 and 90 percent acceptance rates, respectively.
For effective global vaccine distribution, the researchers said vaccine rollout programs should be well-informed by local populations' particular concerns.
School of Public Health epidemiology professor Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, an author of the study, said the research team also used the data to identify important factors contributing to lower levels of Covid-19 vaccine acceptance.
The most significant predictors of vaccine acceptance include confidence in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, perception of the risk posed by Covid-19, belief in the importance of mass vaccination, general attitudes to routine childhood immunizations, and public trust in government leadership and healthcare systems, per Wu.
Caroline O. Buckee, a School of Public Health assistant professor of epidemiology who was not involved in the study, said the survey shows the importance of “understanding the local context” and implementing local messaging systems to combat misinformation in areas where vaccine hesitancy is prevalent.
“It is a huge issue not just internationally, and not just among women — it’s a huge issue in the U.S. as well,” Buckee said regarding vaccine hesitancy. “And it’s something that’s going to be probably going to play an increasingly important role in how we manage the pandemic moving forward.”
Clarification: September 14, 2020
This article has been updated to clarify the researchers' main takeaway from the survey. The researchers see the relatively low vaccine acceptance rate in pregnant women as an obstacle to herd immunity. A previous version of this article focused on the percentage of women who would like their children to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.
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