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Coronavirus vaccine hesitancy linked to childhood trauma

Published: 2 February 2022

Researchers at Public Health Wales and Bangor University call for additional support to build trust in those affected.

Reluctance or refusal to get vaccinated against Coronavirus infection (vaccine hesitancy), may be linked to traumatic events in childhood, such as neglect, domestic violence or substance misuse in the family home, suggests research funded by Public Health Wales and published in the BMJ Open. 

Research conducted with adults in Wales identified that vaccine hesitancy was three times higher among people who had experienced four or more types of childhood trauma than it was among those who hadn’t experienced any. 

Childhood adversity has been shown to be linked to poorer mental well-being, with some studies suggesting it may lead to reduced trust in health and other public services. To explore this further, the researchers wanted to find out whether childhood trauma might be linked to levels of trust in NHS COVID-19 information; support for, and compliance with, Coronavirus restrictions (such as mandatory face coverings and social distancing); and intention to get vaccinated against the infection. 

But the researchers point out that people who have experienced childhood trauma are “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 suggest. 

Mark Bellis, author and Director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre at Public Health Wales 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.” 

The survey asked about 9 types of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs; childhood trauma) before the age of 18: physical, verbal, and sexual abuse; parental separation; exposure to domestic violence; and living with a household member with mental illness, alcohol and/or drug misuse, or who was in prison. 

Respondents who expressed little or no trust in NHS Coronavirus information and who felt unfairly restricted by government COVID-19 restrictions were more likely to favour the immediate ending of regulations on social distancing and mandatory face coverings. They were also more likely to say they had flouted the regulations occasionally and to profess reluctance or refusal to get jabbed. 

The full study ‘Associations between adverse childhood experiences, attitudes towards COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine hesitancy: a cross-sectional study.’ is freely available here: