Thousands of Kiwis with long-term health conditions remain COVID-19 vaccine hesitant and over a quarter (29%) had not been offered a vaccine, according to new research.
The Zoom Health study found a seventh (14%) of those living with chronic health conditions have not yet committed to getting a COVID-19 vaccine. The research also found only a third (32%) had received both doses.
Health experts say a more pragmatic approach which addresses the transport barriers faced by many Kiwis may help increase the number of vaccinations in Group 3 (those at risk of getting very sick from COVID). It will also safeguard against additional pressure on our health system when treating those with underlying conditions during a local outbreak of the disease.
The perceptions of over 800 respondents living with long term health conditions were captured in the nationwide study during July and August. The majority of those in the study had four or more prescriptions for a wide range of illnesses including diabetes, hypertension, asthma, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
Around a sixth (15%) of survey respondents say access to reliable transport was a barrier to travelling to a local vaccination centre with around a tenth (11%) either unable to drive their own vehicle or travel as a passenger and had poor public transport infrastructure in their area.
A further 4% of respondents lived in rural or remote areas and 3% said they were unable to drive due to health reasons.
When it came to their ability to make an informed decision a tenth (11%) of respondents say they have insufficient information about whether to take the vaccine.
The most common reason given by those who are unsure about the vaccine is a belief that it is too soon to see whether there are any long-term effects (74% of those respondents who are unsure or unlikely to commit to getting the vaccine). Almost four in ten (38%) say they would rather wait and see if others suffer side effects. A third (35%) say they need to be better assured of its safety.
Din Redzepagic, lead pharmacist from Zoom Pharmacy, which specialises in increasing the level of adherence to prescription medicines in vulnerable populations, says addressing vaccine hesitancy in this group may require a more innovative approach.
“We know that many of those living with chronic health issues are among the most vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.
“While it is reassuring to see high numbers of those living with chronic health conditions willing to be vaccinated, the study findings show that one in seven remain resistant.
“We can see that many face perceptual barriers including not knowing whether their condition may make them more likely to experience complications from the vaccine while others simply cannot easily access reliable transport to a nearby vaccination centre,” he says.
Redzepagic says it would be possible to make significant inroads into the numbers of Kiwis categorised as being in Group 3 simply by addressing the logistical and cost transport barriers or the provision of a small non cash incentive.
The research found that one in seven (13%) respondents with underlying health conditions would be more likely to be vaccinated if a mobile vaccination service could bring the vaccine to them at their work, home, community group, or place of worship. Another tenth (11%) said they would be vaccinated if transport to a vaccination centre was free or was reimbursed to them.
A further 8% say a monetary incentive of up to $20 such as a gift voucher or the ability to be immunised with all members of their family/whanau at once would be sufficient to reduce their resistance to the vaccine.
Around four in ten (44%) of those not committed to getting the COVID vaccine remain steadfastly resolute in not wanting to be immunised, regardless of any additional offers of assistance.
“It is important to note that many Kiwis in Group 3 are at a much higher risk of serious complications from COVID.
“Depending on their preexisting condition, they may be significantly more likely to spend time in hospital and in the event of an outbreak of the disease similar to that of New South Wales we may find the resources of our health care system stretched significantly in trying to help them.
“With a large part of this population facing logistical barriers to accessing health care services, we need to review whether a portion of the funds used in delivering ongoing advertising campaigns to them might be better spent in the provision of free transport to help them get to a vaccine centre,” he says.