Vaccine hesitancy was listed as one of the top 10 threats to global health by the World Health Organization (WHO) back in 2019 — but in 2021, it remains as threatening as ever.

Defined by the WHO as the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines,” vaccine hesitancy has the potential to reverse progress in eliminating some of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.

The current global health crisis has killed more than 2 million people, infected more than 100 million, and impacted the lives of most people around the world, regardless of geographic location or socioeconomic status.

One of the best ways to stop transmission of the deadly virus, while minimizing fatalities, is to immunize the global population with COVID-19 vaccines. But in addition to the challenges of producing enough supply to vaccinate everyone and distributing available doses equitably, a major barrier to ending the COVID-19 pandemic is convincing people to actually get the vaccine once it’s available.

In a global survey led by Lazarus that looked at potential COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rates in 19 countries, respondents from China gave the highest number (89%) of positive responses when asked if they would take a “proven, safe, and effective vaccine,” while respondents in Russia gave the lowest number (55%) of positive responses.

In eight of the countries, including Canada, Singapore, Nigeria, and France, less than 70% of the population responded positively.  This data doesn’t bode well for plans to develop herd immunity against COVID-19. Between 70% to 90% of the population will likely need to be vaccinated against the virus in order to achieve herd immunity and halt transmission, US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said last December.

Reluctance or refusal to vaccinate can stem from religious beliefsfear of needleslack of confidence, and more. The spread of misinformation is also a main driver of vaccine hesitancy, Lazarus said. Whether it’s twisted truths, downright lies, or conspiracy theories, misinformation about vaccines has played a big role in reducing public trust and confidence in the immunization process.

Vaccine hesitancy is also linked to distrust in the system — be it the government or the public health system. A recent Lancet survey found that higher percentages of respondents with no recent vaccination history were associated with lower trust in national government.

Read the full article about vaccine hesitancy by Kristine Liao at Global Citizen.