News Socioeconomic Impacts of COVID-19 Press Release

Fear of safety and mistrust cause vaccine hesitancy in Israel

Press Release: Feb. 26, 2021

The Social Policy Institute at Washington University in St. Louis (SPI) recently released data from its Socioeconomic Impact of COVID-19 Survey in Israel indicating vaccine hesitancy among Israelis. Findings indicate that 40% of survey respondents who have not yet been vaccinated do not intend to receive the shot at all.

The third wave of SPI’s multi-wave survey was administered in Israel to a nationally representative sample of 2,341 respondents between Jan. 1 and Jan. 28, 2021. The survey asked respondents about their inclination to get a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as their perspectives toward the vaccine and pandemic overall. The results indicate certain religious groups are more hesitant to receive the vaccine than others, though the reasoning differs.

In general, the strongest opposition to vaccination can be found among the Arab community – over half (51%) of Arab Israelis who have not yet gotten the shot reported that they have no intention of doing so. Similarly of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union who have not received the vaccine yet, many (49%) were also highly unlikely to get the vaccine.

Figure 1. The proportion of respondents not planning to get the vaccine*

*The sample is limited to those who did not get vaccinated

Uncertainty of long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines was the primary reason for not getting vaccinated – over half of the respondents answered that they would not get vaccinated because they “do not yet know enough about the harms that a vaccine can have in the long run.” Mistrust in vaccine providers follows the concern regarding vaccines’ long-term effect – approximately one-third of the respondents reasoned mistrusts in the pharmaceutical companies and the government for not getting vaccinated (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Reasons for not planning to get a vaccine

The survey also asked respondents about their fear of COVID-19 and found that Arab Israelis both have the highest rate of vaccine refusal and reports to be the most afraid of dying of the virus.

Figures 3 and 4 report that Haredi/Ultra-Orthodox Jews were far less afraid of the pandemic than the other groups. The averages reported ranged from 0, meaning not afraid of being infected with COVID-19, to 100, meaning extremely afraid of being infected with COVID-19. Israeli ethnic groups are listed in order from lowest fear to highest fear of infections: Haredi/Ultra-Orthodox Jews (45), religious Jews (51), Arab Israelis (52), immigrants from the former USSR (55) and lastly with the highest fear of infection secular/traditional Jews (57) (Figure 3). Similarly, Haredi/Ultra-Orthodox Jews reported the lowest score of the fear of death due to COVID-19 (10, on average) followed by religious Jews (17), immigrants from the former USSR (25), secular/traditional Jews (24), and Arab Israelis (31) (Figure 4).

Hence the fear of COVID-19 explains the vaccine hesitancy of Haredi Jews; that is, Haredi Jews were less likely to get vaccinated because they were less worried about COVID-19.

Figure 3. Fear of being infected with COVID-10
(0: not afraid of being infected with COVID-19; 100: extremely afraid of being infected with COVID-19)

Figure 4. Fear of death due to COVID-19
(0: not afraid of dying due to COVID-19; 100: extremely afraid of dying due to COVID-19).

Despite Israel being among the most successful countries for vaccine rollout, people are still hesitant to participate. Israel—and other countries—can apply innovative behavioral economics-based techniques to increase COVID-19 vaccine confidence and acceptance across diverse populations. Understanding who is refusing the vaccine and why can help countries tailor messaging and strategies to increase vaccine uptake and boost the chances of herd immunity nationwide.

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