Sustained COVID-19 vaccine willingness despite Oxford-AstraZeneca pause

Disease and treatment 11. apr 2021 2 min Professor Søren Dinesen Østergaard Written by Kristian Sjøgren

89% of Denmark’s population is still willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 – despite the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine being linked to rare cases of blood clots.

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New research has shown that Danes are still willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The researchers investigated how the news of rare cases of blood clots associated with Vaxzevria (the new name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine) has affected people’s willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The research shows that 89% of the population was still willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in the survey conducted in March – after the use of Vaxzevria was paused. This number was just as high as in February – before the use of Vaxzevria was paused.

“In February, we asked a sample of Danes if they were willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and 89% answered yes. That number is unchanged among the same people after Vaxzevria was suspected of causing blood clots,” explains an author behind the study, Søren Dinesen Østergaard, Professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine, Aarhus University.

The research has been published in the Danish Medical Journal.

People rate Vaxzevria as being less safe

The survey involved almost 1,500 participants.

From 4 to 21 February, before Vaxzevria was put on pause, the participants were asked whether they were willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The same participants were asked the same question from 15 to 25 March following the pause in the use of Vaxzevria.

The participants were also asked to rate the safety of Vaxzevria and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

On a scale of 0 to 10, the participants rated the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at 8.26, showing great confidence in its safety, versus 5.35 for Vaxzevria.

The study also shows that it was particularly those who were not willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 that rated both vaccines as being less safe.

“The fact that 89% still maintain that they are willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 shows a high level of trust in the healthcare system and the authorities’ recommendations. We were slightly surprised that this proportion did not drop after the reported cases of blood clots linked to Vaxzevria. This bodes well for the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Denmark,” says Søren Dinesen Østergaard.

All 89% may not end up being vaccinated

However, the 89% of the respondents who said that they are willing to be vaccinated against COVID-19 may not all end up being vaccinated.

This type of survey risks social desirability bias: that is, some respondents say that they are willing to be vaccinated – because this is considered the “right” behaviour – without eventually accepting vaccination.

“If this bias applies here, it means that the survey generally overestimates the support for the COVID-19 vaccination programme,” explains Søren Dinesen Østergaard.

Waiting for the announcement from the Danish health authorities

The survey was carried out before the European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on 7 April that Vaxzevria is probably associated with rare cases of blood clots with low blood platelets.

However, EMA maintains that the benefits of Vaxzevria still outweigh the risks.

Denmark’s health authorities are awaiting results from Danish studies of Vaxzevria and expect to make an announcement about the vaccine during the week starting on 12 April. Nevertheless, Søren Dinesen Østergaard believes that the willingness of people in Denmark to be vaccinated against COVID-19 will not decline significantly after this announcement.

“People in Denmark generally trust the health authorities, so I expect that people will continue to follow their guidance,” he says.

Sustained COVID-19 vaccine willingness after safety concerns over the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine” has been published in the Danish Medical Journal. In 2020, the Novo Nordisk Foundation awarded a grant of DKK 1,050,000 to Søren Dinesen Østergaard for the project Mental Health Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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