Authors: Wafa Alam, Nadia Farnaz, Farzana Manzoor, Sally Theobald and Sabina Faiz Rashid
April 13, 2023
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Vaccine hesitancy or low uptake was identified as a major threat to global health by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019. Vaccine hesitancy is context-specific and varies across time, place, and socioeconomic groups. In this study, we aimed to understand the perceptions of and attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccination through time among urban slum dwellers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In-depth telephone interviews were conducted between October 2020 and January 2021 with 36 adults (25 females and 11 males) living in three urban slums of Dhaka City, Bangladesh. Follow-up interviews were undertaken in April and August 2021 to capture any shift in the participants’ perceptions. Our findings show that for many there was an initial fear and confusion regarding the COVID-19 vaccine among people living in urban informal settlements; this confusion was soon reduced by the awareness efforts of government and non-government organizations. Women and young people were more interested in being vaccinated as they had had more exposure to the awareness sessions conducted by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and on social media. However, people living in the slums still faced systemic barriers, such as complicated online vaccine registration and long queues, which led to low uptake of the vaccine despite their increased willingness to be vaccinated. This study highlights the importance of using sources such as NGO workers and television news to debunk myths, disseminate COVID-19 vaccine information, and support adherence to vaccination among urban slum dwellers. Our study underscores the importance of addressing systemic barriers blocking access and understanding community perceptions in order to develop effective communication strategies for vulnerable groups that will then improve the COVID-19 vaccine uptake.