Perceptions around COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy: A qualitative study in Kaski district, Western Nepal.
Mahato P., Adhikari B., Marahatta SB., Bhusal S., Kunwar K., Yadav RK., Baral S., Adhikari A., van Teijlingen E.
Burgeoning morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19 pandemic including the peaks in outbreaks due to different variants have attracted global attention. Although the development and rolling out of vaccines have been impressive, low- and middle-income countries suffer from a double burden: (1) lack of adequate vaccines; and (2) low vaccine uptake (vaccine hesitancy). The main objective of this study was to explore perceptions around COVID-19 and vaccine hesitancy among urban and rural population in Western Nepal. A qualitative study was conducted in six urban wards of Pokhara municipality and four rural municipalities in Kaski district of Nepal. A semi-structured interview guide was used to interview participants who were selected purposively to explore the perceived burden of COVID-19 pandemic, roles, and contributions of vaccine. Nineteen interviews were conducted by telephone following a government recommendation to avoid face-to-face meetings. Audio-recorded interviews were thematically analysed after transcription and translation into English. COVID-19 is a major (public) health concern and affects people at an individual, societal and national level. People dreaded its health hazards and consequences and seemed to be compliant with public health measures such as maintaining social distance, wearing masks and maintaining hygiene. Vaccine was considered to be a major intervention to fight the pandemic, nonetheless, the rationale and benefits of vaccines were blemished by the perceived lack of the vaccine's effectiveness, duration of protection, and its potential side-events. Expedited development of vaccine was embraced with suspicion that vaccine may have incurred compromise in quality. Science and rationale behind vaccine were smeared by misinformation and clearly counteracting the misinformation were deemed critical. Providing information about vaccines through government entities (who are trusted) and respected individuals may engender trust and uptake of vaccine. Fighting off misinformation of COVID-19 is critical to curb the course of pandemic. Increased attention towards monitoring and investing in legitimacy of information and offering information through trusted sources can help improve the vaccine coverage.