Study links vaccine hesitancy to low social capital 

5 smiling people standing close together, showing off their bandaids from vaccination.

People with stronger relationships and high levels of trust in their community were more likely to plan to get vaccinated for COVID-19, highlighting the need to boost societal supports to strengthen vaccine efforts.  

People with high levels of trust in their relationships and community were more likely to report that they planned to get vaccinated for COVID-19, new research from McMaster shows, highlighting the need to strengthen social capital and societal supports to improve vaccine uptake.

circular headshot of Michel Grignon
Michel Grignon

“Vaccine hesitancy isn’t random and can’t be explained by individual characteristics alone,” says lead researcher Michel Grignon, a health economist in the Faculty of Social Sciences and a member of Canada’s Global Nexus for Pandemics and Biological Threats.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, points to deeper societal factors that affect vaccine hesitancy.

“There is not much public health authorities can do to convince people to get a vaccine when the issues may be related to more complex factors in our communities.”

Research has demonstrated that social capital is good for health and plays an important role in protecting people from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Grignon says.

When it comes to vaccine hesitancy, however, much of the research is concerned with belief systems about health and vaccines and individual characteristics such as income and education.

Grignon and co-author Yihong Bai were interested in examining individuals who share characteristics such as income or education levels, but don’t agree on the COVID-19 vaccine.

They used fall 2020 data from a special version of the annual Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) conducted by Statistics Canada, which asked more than 6,500 Ontario residents about social capital and their intention to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Canada’s national vaccination advisory body is calling for high-risk individuals to get a COVID-19 booster shot this spring. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is recommending that a booster be offered six or more months from the last COVID-19 vaccine dose — or SARS-CoV-2 infection, whichever is longer — to people with a higher risk of severe illness.

Recent data shows about 40 per cent of adults in Canada have received a COVID-19 booster. Of those 65 and older, 77 per cent have their booster. Grignon says his research suggests that the problem of vaccine hesitancy may be with us for a long time if social conditions like a lack of connection in our communities isn’t addressed.

“We still have work to do on convincing Canadians to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” he says.

And how can we equip people with more social capital?

“It’s not going to be easy, but we can work on the next generation,” Grignon says. We may have to ensure social capital is better distributed in our country and around the world if we want to lessen vaccine hesitancy.” 

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