To Jab Or Not To Jab?
My wife received her first anti-COVID-19 jab two days ago, and by the time this post goes online, I will have just received mine, too. A good time to discuss the risk perceptions around the COVID-19 vaccine; especially since just yesterday, three research colleagues of mine, Jane Cheung, Steve Peterson and David Zaharchuk, released a timely new study on the topic, aptly titled “An injection of hope”. Full disclosure: I’ll be shamelessly stealing a lot of today’s post from that report. (But not everything.)
For the study, they surveyed more than 15k consumers in 9 countries. Questions centered around confidence in the vaccines and in the expected consumer behaviors afterwards. Some interesting, and some disturbing, trends emerged.
Roughly two thirds of respondents believed the vaccines are safe, and about the same percentage that they are effective, with wide variations between the countries. That means that about 1 in 3 consumers don’t trust the available vaccines, their country’s rollout efforts or both. Even in countries where trust in the vaccine per se is high, such as China, still 40% of respondents say they won’t get vaccinated – never mind the U.S. were 55% are at least uncertain whether they will.
That is bad news for returning to “normal” life post-COVID-19. The proportion of people who need to get the jab for herd immunity  is unknown. Estimates cited by the US CDC have ranged from 60% to 85%. So in all likelihood the level of immunization needed for herd immunity is higher than the level of willingness to receive the vaccine. An additional complication is that not all vaccines are trusted equally. The AstraZeneca vaccine in particular has been suspected in some countries to cause blood clots in rare cases, which has put a halt to use of that vaccine in some jurisdictions.
This may misallocate risk, as the risk of blood clot formation has in no way been near the risk of foregoing the vaccine and potentially contracting COVID-19 and its potential complications. It's not only that people are at more risk from the disease than any vaccine complications. Even getting in the car and driving to the vaccination site today was more risky than the vaccination. Still, while 70% of my adopted compatriots in France said they will accept being vaccinated, they also say “but not with AstraZeneca” – making the already fraught rollout hereabouts even more fraught.
The vaccine hesitancy inherent in the AstraZeneca scare is a texbook example of zero-risk bias in action. Unfortunately, any sizeable vaccine hesitancy can derail the whole effort. Not only don’t we know where the herd immunity limit is, we also don’t know whether and how well the vaccines will work against mutated strains of the virus, and with every non-vaccinated person, the risk of mutations increases.
The other reason with the high distrust is so scary is in this chart from the report:
Only after vaccination levels have exceeded 70% will even half of consumer feel confident enough to return to their lifestyle from 2019. We’ll need more than that for the economy to get back to humming again, which means vaccination levels that consumers today say we will never reach.
The report has a lot more interesting things to say about when and how those post-pandemic behaviors will look like... details I won’t go into as I invite you to read the paper. The one thing I would like to highlight is the generational disparity that shows up in the data. Gen Z respondents in particular  expect their behavior to change in different ways than their elders: more social interaction, but not in large-scale venues like sporting events, and also more online shopping. My own interpretation of this is: more direct interaction with friends and family (and local stores) where possible, online speed and convenience where necessary. This mirrors my own experience talking to people in my own locality, with many re-valuing social closeness and community, including frequenting local producers and vendors.
I might be wrong in this interpretation, but it does give hope that the excesses of consumerism and globalization that made a pandemic like the one we are living through possible in the first place can be sufficiently mitigated that the risk of it happening again are lowered.
 30% say they won’t get the vaccine, 25% are uncertain
 Whatever that means in this case – all available vaccines prevent severe cases, but not necessarily catching the bug or passing it on
 I got the AZ jab
 Another disclosure: even though this was written by my colleagues, I won’t get any benefits for the shameless plug in this post beside maybe a slap on the back. I just think it’s worth the read.
 As outlined in the post linked above, the definition of generations is fluid. The report defines them 18-24 year olds – the lower age boundary being a result of not surveying minors.