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Countries with significant numbers of people refusing or delaying a Covid-19 vaccine could face death rates from the disease that are as much as nine times higher than in other populations, according to a new study.
Vaccine skepticism over the next two years could mean high mortality rates persist beyond the current, more acute phase of the pandemic and threatens the successful rollout of shots globally, researchers at Imperial College London said.
The findings highlight the scale of the risk facing governments and public-health officials if they don’t ensure trust in immunization.
“Getting vaccinated is an individual choice; however, this choice has social consequences,” said Daniela Olivera Mesa, one of the study authors, in a statement. “Our work demonstrated that vaccine hesitancy can have a substantial health impact.”
The potential risk is particularly acute in countries like France, where just 40% of people in a December survey said they’d get a Covid vaccine if it was offered to them.
Based on current levels of skepticism about the shots, France could see 8.7 times more deaths in 2021/22 than it would under the ideal level of uptake — where 98% of individuals ages 15 and over are vaccinated, the report said. That would compare with 4.5 times more deaths in Germany, and 1.3 times more in the U.K., which has the lowest level of hesitancy of the countries included in the analysis.
Overall, the authors estimate that even modest levels of hesitancy could lead to an extra 236 deaths per million people over a two-year period, assuming the vaccines administered have an efficacy of 94%. With a vaccine that’s 63% effective, the figure rises to 305 per million.
The results also assume countries won’t return to lockdowns or similar non-pharmaceutical interventions to stem transmission of the virus.