Bayesian uncertainty quantification to identify population level vaccine hesitancy behaviours

DJ Warne, A Varghese, AP Browning, MM Krell, C Drovandi, W Hu, A Mira, K Mengersen, AL Jenner


When effective vaccines are available, vaccination programs are typically one of the best defences against the spread of an infectious disease. Unfortunately, vaccination rates may be suboptimal for a prolonged duration as a result of slow uptake of vaccines by the public. Key factors driving slow vaccination uptake can be a complex interaction of vaccine roll-out policies and logistics, and vaccine hesitancy behaviours potentially caused by an inflated sense of risk in adverse reactions in some populations or community complacency in communities that have not yet experienced a large outbreak. In the recent COVID-19 pandemic, public health responses around the world began to include vaccination programs from late 2020 to early 2021 with an aim of relaxing non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdowns and travel restrictions. For many jurisdictions there have been challenges in getting vaccination rates high enough to enable the relaxation of restrictions based on non-pharmaceutical interventions. A key concern during this time was vaccine hestitancy behaviours potentially caused by vaccine safety concerns fuelled by misinformation and community complacency in jurisdictions that had seen very low COVID-19 case numbers throughout 2020, such as Australia and New Zealand. We develop a novel stochastic epidemiological model of COVID-19 transmission that incorporates changes in population behaviour relating to responses based on non-pharmaceutical interventions and community vaccine uptake as functions of the reported COVID-19 cases, deaths, and vaccination rates. Through a simulation study, we develop a Bayesian analysis approach to demonstrate that different factors inhibiting the uptake of vaccines by the population can be isolated despite key model parameters being subject to substantial uncertainty. In particular, we are able to identify the presence of vaccine hesitancy in a population using reported case, death and vaccination count data alone. Furthermore, our approach provides insight as to whether the dominant concerns driving hesitancy are related to vaccine safety or complacency. While our simulation study is inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic, our tools and techniques are general and could be enable vaccination programs of various infectious diseases to be adapted rapidly in response to community behaviours moving forward into the future.