A quarter of younger Scots are prepared to reject coronavirus vaccines, it has emerged, meaning lockdown measures may be needed again next winter.
While public health experts have been delighted with the uptake of jabs so far among older age groups, polling commissioned by the Scottish Government reveals vaccine scepticism among 18 to 44-year-olds.
Experts warned that new tailored public health campaigns are urgently needed to persuade healthy younger adults, who are far less likely to develop serious illness if they catch Covid-19, of the importance of accepting jabs.
Jeane Freeman, the SNP health secretary, on Sunday raised hopes that all adults in Scotland could be offered a vaccine by the summer.
While the proportion of the Scottish public vaccinated continues to lag behind the rest of the UK, the programme has rapidly speeded up over recent days, with 52,839 people – almost one per cent of the entire population – getting an injection on Saturday alone.
However, internal Scottish Government polling, and carried out just last week, found that only three quarters of Scots aged 18 to 44 said they were likely to be vaccinated, with the rest either unsure or unwilling to accept appointments. Across all age groups, 83 per cent said they were likely to be vaccinated, with the figure rising to 93 per cent among over 65s.
Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said she expected vaccine scepticism to become a growing issue as the programme expanded to include younger age groups.
“This is going to be a problem,” she said. “We know that vaccine uptake generally is lower in younger adults. We see that with the flu vaccination programme and we’ll see that with this one as well.
“Certainly, when you get to people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, they’ll know from the evidence that Covid-19 is not a big risk to them compared to older people, so they may question, personally, how essential it is.
“That’s why we’re going to need campaigns that make it very clear, a bit like lockdown, that it’s not all about them. By getting vaccinated they contribute to herd immunity which protects older people, who do not have 100 per cent protection from existing vaccines.”
While younger, healthy people are highly unlikely to die from Covid-19, they can become very unwell and campaigns could also emphasise the dangers of ‘long Covid’, Professor Bauld said.
However, she warned that if large numbers of younger people did not accept vaccinations, it could mean the need to reimpose lockdown restrictions in future, even after jabs have been offered to everybody.
A record 52,839 vaccinations in 🏴 yesterday 👏
839,226 have now had first dose, inc 99.5% of older care home residents, 90% of staff in older adult care homes, 94%+ of over 80s living in community, 64% of those aged 75-79 and 26% of 70-74 yr olds. On track to hit all targets.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) February 7, 2021
“My expectation is that we will have a pretty good summer,” Professor Bauld said. “But as we get into next winter, young people not having taken up the vaccine would place us at significant risk of further lockdown measures having to be applied. So it would mean a hit for their economy and their social lives.”
So far, 99.5 per cent of older care home residents, and 94 per cent of over 80s living in the community, have been vaccinated in Scotland.
This drops to 64 per cent of 75 to 79-year-olds, and 26 per cent of 70 to 75-year-olds, with all members of those groups due to be offered vaccinations by February 15.
Ms Freeman said yesterday that all Scots could be vaccinated against coronavirus “in the summer”. However, she refused to be drawn on when lockdown restrictions would be substantively eased.
“There is a scenario where absolutely we move really fast, as long as supplies keep coming,” she said. “Our ambition is to get through all those 4.5 million adults aged 18 and over in the summer.”
On Saturday, some vaccination staff were sent home from centres in Glasgow due to low patient numbers. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said this was due to some patients not turning up for appointments, and applied in a “small number” of cases.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Scotland’s Covid-19 vaccination programme is now delivering ahead of our expectations, thanks to the enormous efforts of our vaccination teams.
“Our aim is to vaccinate as many people as possible with both their first and second doses. The vaccine deployment plan was predicated on an uptake of at least 80 per cent in each cohort.
“Health Ministers across the UK have agreed in principle to a four nations approach for the under-50s population. We will await further advice from the JCVI on this population group, which we expect on or shortly after 15 February 2021.
“Our marketing and insights work will look at whether we need additional ways to promote the protection of being vaccinated to younger age groups.”