COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in rural South Africa: Deepening understanding to increase uptake and access

Background: To date, COVID-19 vaccine coverage in the African region falls far too short of global goals. Increasing vaccination rates requires understanding barriers to vaccination so that effective interventions that sensitively and effectively address barriers to vaccination can be implemented. Methods: To assess COVID-19 vaccination levels and identify major barriers to vaccine uptake we conducted a population-based, cross-sectional survey among 1662 adults 18 and older from August 25 to October 29 2021 in the Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System (AHDSS) area, Mpumalanga, South Africa. Results: Half of participants reported receiving a COVID-19 vaccine (50.4%) with 41.1% being fully vaccinated and 9.3% being partially vaccinated; 49.6% were unvaccinated. More women than men were vaccinated (55.5% vs 42.8%, P < 0.001), and older age groups were more likely to be vaccinated than younger age groups (P < 0.001). Among the unvaccinated, 69.0% planned to get vaccinated as soon as possible, while 14.7% reported definitely not wanting the vaccine. Major barriers to vaccination included lacking information on eligibility (12.3%) or where to get vaccinated (13.0%), concerns about side effects (12.5%), and inconvenient hours and locations for vaccination (11.0%). Confidence in the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines was higher among those vaccinated than unvaccinated (75.3% vs 51.2%, 75.8% vs 51.0%, both P < 0.001, respectively). Conclusions: Increasing vaccination in South Africa beyond current levels will require a concerted effort to address concerns around vaccine safety and increase confidence in vaccine efficacy. Clarifying eligibility and ensuring access to vaccines at times and places that are convenient to younger populations, men, and other vulnerable groups is necessary.