Strategies for increasing vaccine coverage against flu and Covid-19
With low rates of vaccination against Covid-19 continuing to concern authorities and the scientific community, the Athens-Macedonian News Agency sought the advice of Professor of Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology Theodora Psaltopoulou on what the science has to say about so-called "vaccine hesitancy" and strategies for dispelling disinformation regarding vaccines.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has sounded the alarm over low vaccination rates and the Greek health ministry is also launching a campaign to persuade people of the value of vaccination, seeking creative ways to ensure vaccines reach everyone, especially vulnerable groups.
"It is important to stress that vaccination against covid is now annual, as it is for the flu. The vaccine protects against serious illness and death. We know that all those who are over 60 and have not been vaccinated are 20 times more likely to lose their life from a coronavirus infection. For this reason, we call on our fellow citizens over 60 and those with underlying conditions to get the annual vaccination against Covid," said Alternate Health Minister Irene Agapidaki.
Psaltopoulou, on her part, pointed out that vaccination against Covid-19 has been a very widely studied topic in recent years, while a 2023 bibliometric analysis showed that scientific papers focused chiefly on three areas: the efficacy of the vaccine, the efficacy of the latest vaccines as regards the Omicron sub-variant and vaccine hesitancy. An earlier meta-analysis of 58 papers found that being younger, not working or not working in the health sector and fewer years in education can affect hesitancy regarding the Covid-19 vaccine.
Summarising the international findings and citing a 2023 JAMA Network study using a representative sample in the United States, Psaltopoulou said that participants appeared to rate the efficacy of the Covid-19 and flu vaccines about the same (42% and 40%) but not their safety, with 55% saying that the flu vaccine was very safe and 41% giving the same answer for the Covid-19 vaccine. Correspondingly, 49% said they will likely get a flu vaccine, versus 36% that will get the updated coronavirus jab. Reasons given for this hesitancy were a desire for "more research on the issue" and the belief that they were adequately protected due to previous vaccinations or bouts of Covid.
Another study published in 2023 showed that half of those initially expressing vaccine hesitancy went on to be vaccinated, while 20 pct of those intending not to get vaccinated eventually got the vaccine. Those with more years in education, greater knowledge of Covid-19 or a doctor's recommendation were more likely to get vaccinated. In the group that did not intend to get vaccinated, being male, political beliefs, taking a flu vaccine in the last five years, anxiety about getting Covid and more knowledge of the virus were correlated with a decision to get vaccinated. The reasons given were a desire to protect oneself and others, practical reasons, social influences and accepting the safety of the vaccine.
Countries with a higher per capita income had higher vaccination rates, while religious and scientific beliefs affected levels of vaccine coverage.
Noting the importance of encouraging those at higher risk to get vaccinated, Psaltopoulou said that public awareness campaigns and recommendations through pharmacies or at-home vaccination can play a positive role.