Researchers from the University of Portsmouth carried out two anonymous surveys in the winters of 2019 and 2022 to gauge attitudes to vaccination.
In a poll of more than 1,000 adults, they found that the post-pandemic group was less confident in vaccines than in the pre-pandemic group.
Participants were asked how much they agreed with statements including “Vaccines are safe”, “I think vaccines should be a compulsory practice”, “I believe if I get vaccinated it would benefit the wellbeing of others” and “Vaccines are a necessity for our health and wellbeing”.
Nearly one in four participants reported a fall in confidence in vaccines since 2020, regardless of their age, gender, religious belief, education or ethnicity.
Both surveys found that participants who held religious beliefs were significantly more vaccine-hesitant than atheist and agnostic ones.
Dr Alessandro Siani, associate head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, said: “While vaccine hesitancy is not a new phenomenon, Covid-19 vaccines have been met with particular hostility despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of their safety and effectiveness.
“This isn’t just among conspiracy theorists though, but also those who don’t consider themselves ‘anti-vaxxers’ and had supported other vaccination campaigns in the past.”
In the pre-pandemic study, middle-aged participants were found to be more apprehensive about getting vaccinated than younger age groups – but this trend was reversed in the 2022 study.
Commenting on the differences, Dr Siani said: “This could be because Covid-19 infections notoriously lead to more severe outcomes in older patients.
“Young people who are infected rarely experience severe symptoms that lead to hospitalisation and death, so it’s possible that many have become complacent and don’t feel the need to get vaccinated.
“On the other hand, older people may have been more wary of the consequences of the infection, and more appreciative of the protection offered by the vaccine.”
Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care and public health at Imperial College London, told the Standard: “People are forgetting about Covid-19 because it’s not in the news agenda, whereas before it was on the front page for two years in a row.
“But it is still a threat and people can become hospitalised or die. It also still causes problems for the NHS, even if it is not as dangerous as it was two years ago. It isn’t over yet.”