The global race to develop a vaccination for the coronavirus continues at an unprecedented pace, as the social, health and economics consequences of the pandemic worsen.
Given the significant disruption to almost every aspect of life, you might expect the majority of people to be eagerly awaiting a jab to protect themselves from COVID-19.
But the mammoth results of a poll on news.com.au’s Facebook page indicates a shock divide among Australians.
As of Friday afternoon, more than 88,000 people had cast a vote on the question: “Will you get the coronavirus vaccine when it’s ready?”
Fifty-four per cent of respondents said no, while 46 per cent voted yes.
Some of those who voted no in the poll shared typical anti-vaccination views in the comments section, including conspiracies about the involvement of tech billionaire Bill Gates in the search for a vaccine.
Dr Thomas Rozbroj is a postdoctoral fellow at Monash University’s Cabrini Institute, in the Department of Clinical Epidemiology, and described vaccine attitudes as “a spectrum”.
“On one end, we have a relatively small group of people who are staunchly against all vaccination – probably less than five per cent of the Australian population,” Dr Rozbroj said.
“Then we have a group who vaccinate selectively, and then a much bigger group of people who vaccinate fully, but who are also concerned about vaccines.”
Many who voted in the poll and commented to share their views expressed fairly valid reasons, including concerns about the safety of a medicine that is being developed so rapidly.
“I’m torn,” one voter said. “I am 100 per cent on board with vaccines which have had the appropriate testing. However, I am wary of the fact this COVID vaccine has been rushed and we don’t know potential side effects. Especially for children.”
Another wrote: “I’m concerned that the vaccine has been rushed and we won’t know the side effects.”
Those who are keen to get jabbed, if or when a COVID-19 vaccine is ready, want to wait until they’re absolutely sure it’s safe.
Others seem to be ready and raring to go, with one declaring: “If it gets me going overseas for a holiday, I will definitely be getting it.”
Professor Julie Leask is a social scientist and immunisation expert at The University of Sydney and agreed that work on a vaccine is happening rapidly.
But that won’t mean any end product hasn’t undergone stringent safety tests and quality control like any other pharmaceutical product.
Professor Leask said it would be important for governments to clearly communicate the safety and effectiveness of an eventual vaccine.
“You’ll see people lining up for it and demanding they get it, even if they’re not in the priority category,” she said.
“Then you’ll have the majority who are willing to consider getting it but who need to be reassured by their doctor that it’s safe and worthwhile. Then there will be some people who have a lot of concern and are nervous.
“You’ll find some people who are against it and can never be convinced, followed finally by some who are activists and work night and day to undermine the program.
“We just don’t know how many people will be in those different categories when the time comes.”