Fri. Jul 1st, 2022
Vaccines and immunisation

With almost 10% of UK population unvaccinated, Public Health Wales surveys effects of early harm

Refusal or reluctance to have a Covid-19 vaccine may be linked to traumatic events in childhood, such as parents separating, neglect, or physical, verbal and sexual abuse, new research suggests.

Those who suffer in childhood are also least likely to trust official NHS coronavirus information, follow the rules of restrictions or wear masks during the pandemic, public health experts found.

Two years after the virus first reached the UK and a year after vaccines to protect against it were made available for free on the NHS, millions of people have yet to be vaccinated. Almost one in 10 people in the UK – 9% – have still not had a single dose.

Health experts and policymakers are urgently trying to figure out why. Now the findings of a new study funded by Public Health Wales and published in the journal BMJ Open suggests that Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy may be linked to childhood trauma.

Researchers surveyed 2,285 people aged 18 and over in Wales during lockdown restrictions between 2020 and 2021. They were asked about nine different adverse childhood experiences (Aces) as well as low trust in NHS Covid-19 information, whether they backed the removal of social distancing and mandatory face coverings, and breaking Covid rules and vaccine hesitancy.

Aces include neglect, physical, psychological or sexual mistreatment, and growing up in a household affected by domestic violence, substance or alcohol abuse and other criminal justice problems. Parents separating or divorcing, abandonment, or having a parent with a mental health condition are other examples of Aces.

The nine Aces included in the study were: physical, verbal and sexual abuse, parental separation, exposure to domestic violence, living with a household member with mental illness, alcohol and/or drug misuse, or a family member in prison.

Half of those in the study had not experienced any childhood trauma, one in five had suffered one type, about one in six reported two or three, and one in 10 reported four or more.

The results showed that the more trauma people had experienced in childhood, the more likely they were to mistrust NHS Covid-19 information, to feel unfairly restricted by the government and to support the end of mandatory face masks.

People were twice as likely to break Covid rules if they had four or more Aces compared with none, while vaccine hesitancy was threefold higher with more than four Aces compared with none. More than four Aces were also associated with a desire to scrap social distancing.

Vaccine hesitancy was estimated at 38% for those aged 18 to 29 with more than four Aces, though older age groups were much more likely to have a vaccination.

This was an observational study and could not establish cause. The researchers also acknowledged caveats to their findings, which relied on personal recall. Women were overrepresented, while people from ethnic minority backgrounds were underrepresented.

Nevertheless, the researchers pointed out that people who have suffered childhood trauma were “known to have greater health risks across the life-course. Results here suggest such individuals may have more difficulty with compliance with public health control measures and consequently require additional support”.

This is important not only for the current pandemic but for other public health emergencies arising in the future, they said.

“A better understanding of how to increase their trust in health systems and compliance with health guidance is urgently required. Without consideration of how best to engage such individuals, some risk being effectively excluded from population health interventions, remaining at higher risks of infection and posing a potential transmission risk to others.”

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Wizadclick | WAC MAG 2022