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COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy and the Impact on the Workforce

COVID-19 Vaccination Hesitancy

Discussions around compulsory coronavirus vaccination for healthcare providers, as well as private employees, has highlighted the issue of vaccine hesitancy as society begins to emerge from lockdown. This report looks at those aged 16-29, who demonstrate the highest rates of vaccine hesitancy of any age group. Analysis shows that the impact on businesses of people of this age group refusing the vaccine has not yet been adequately addressed.

Key Findings

  • Rates of vaccine hesitancy are highest among 16-29 year olds
  • Retail, health, leisure and hospitality are most affected by the reluctance to vaccinate
  • Vaccine hesitancy could lead to prolonged use of lockdowns and thousands of extra deaths
  • Anti-vaccine disinformation on social media fuels concerns among young people
  • Sex and ethnicity are also key variables in determining vaccine hesitancy in young people

The Impact of the Pandemic on Young People’s Employment

Unemployment rates rose highest in the 16 to 24 age group. The retail, hospitality and leisure industries, which have a disproportionately young workforce, have been hard hit by lockdowns and closures. Tackling the root cause of young people’s uncertainty about vaccination will prevent it from becoming a factor that keeps them locked out of the workforce, affecting their long-term prospects as well as the recovery of these industries.

The Interaction of Age, Sex and Ethnicity in Vaccine Hesitancy 

Young black people in the UK display a vaccine hesitancy far higher than their white peers, at 64% versus 25%. A study found that young black people were less likely to trust health professionals and politicians. Finding the right spokespeople to address concerns about vaccination among young black people could be an effective strategy in ensuring they are able to re-enter the workforce safely and, in turn, to making future workforces diverse and inclusive. 

Research has shown that young women are more reluctant to be vaccinated than young men, due to the feared impact of vaccines on future fertility. Public Health England advises that COVID-19 vaccination should not affect pregnancy or fertility. However, online vaccine myths extend to long-term female fertility are highly emotive, unscientific and play on fear. Retail, hospitality and health would be impacted by a young female workforce refusing the vaccine due to myths about fertility. 

 

Social Media and Vaccine Disinformation

65% of anti-vaccine disinformation on Twitter and Facebook is attributable to just twelve high-profile anti-vaccine activists (or anti-vaxxers). Searching ‘COVID vaccine side effects’ on Facebook and Twitter, in service of this report, returned a majority of neutral or pro-vaccine results, supporting claims from these companies that they’re adjusting algorithms to reduce the visibility of inaccurate or unscientific claims about COVID vaccines. However, anti-vaxxer accounts are rarely removed or suspended. Reducing the reach of these high-profile activists would curb the supply of unchallenged vaccine disinformation on social media.  

Young people have reported that concerns about the long-term side-effects of the vaccine are the most likely reason they would decline it. Novel risks, no matter how statistically rare, are more easily sensationalised. Guidance about the safety of AstraZeneca and other coronavirus vaccines needs to be tailored to young people concerned by anti-vaccine myths.

 

Digital Literacy 

While older internet users are known to be vulnerable to disinformation online, it would be wrong to think this doesn’t affect young people. When students in Texas were asked to look at vaccine-related websites, 59% were unable to identify misinformation and over half repeated incorrect information about vaccines after exposure to anti-vaccine content

 

Who can help combat vaccine hesitancy in young people?

Collaboration between public services, trusted professionals, community leaders and private sector platforms has proved effective, as has leveraging social media figures to lead young people by example in wearing masks, practising social distancing and, in some countries, vaccination.

 

Prolonging the Use of Lockdowns

Large groups of unvaccinated people within the population would make achieving herd immunity unlikely, leading to thousands of extra deaths within the next two years, and putting further strain on health services, which could lead to prolonged use of lockdowns, which harm businesses.

 

What’s the Risk to Businesses?

If younger people are less at risk of COVID-19 death or serious illness, why is it an issue for businesses if they decline the coronavirus vaccine?

If requiring proof of vaccination is left to the discretion of employers, they may feel pressured to prioritise safety. Customers and employees who are reluctant to vaccinate could be excluded or segregated as a result. This would limit the number of workers available to industries that employ people from vaccine-hesitant groups in large numbers. Vaccine hesitancy could also mean restricting customer numbers in certain environments due to a prolonged need for mitigating safety measures, such as social distancing, which would have an impact on sales. Continued provision of PPE, or separate workspaces, for unvaccinated staff also entails a cost.

Without joint intervention by public health services and social media to challenge misinformation and address fears about vaccine safety, the recovery of sectors that rely on employing a young workforce, or serve a predominantly younger customer base, will be at serious risk. 

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