Vaccine hesitancy and herd immunity in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country of 5 million inhabitants. The 80% threshold is 4 million people.

Costa Rican leaders hope the country will reach herd immunity against Covid-19 in the last quarter of 2021. Vaccine hesitancy and the current vaccination strategy threaten that goal.

Experts in the U.S. calculate the herd immunity threshold to be at least 80%. This is higher than initial estimates of 60-70% due to the more contagious variants of the virus.

That means four of every five individuals will need to be immune — whether through infection and recovery, or vaccination — in order to protect the entire Costa Rican community.

Costa Rica is a country of about 5 million inhabitants. The 80% threshold is thus 4 million people. In Costa Rica:

  • At least 210,000 people have already recovered from Covid-19.

  • The national vaccination campaign intends to vaccinate 3.7 million adults.

This already combines to less than 4 million people, placing Costa Rica’s 80% target in serious jeopardy.1

3 in 10 have doubts about vaccine

A survey from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), published this week, found that three in 10 Costa Ricans “would have doubts about getting vaccinated” against Covid-19 or do not plan to get vaccinated at all.

This is at odds with Costa Rica’s otherwise stellar vaccination rates. As an example, 96% of Ticos are inoculated against Polio2.

If 20% of adults choose not to get a Covid-19 vaccine, that creates 740,000 more unvaccinated people, which makes it impossible to reach an 80% threshold given the current strategy. This, in fact, would make it difficult for Costa Rica to exceed even a 60% vaccinated rate.3

Improving vaccination rates

One (relatively) straightforward way to improve vaccination rates in Costa Rica is for the country to inoculate children as part of its national strategy. Many countries have authorized the Pfizer vaccine for teenagers; Costa Rica has currently only approved it for those 18 and up.

If Costa Rica were to vaccinate teenagers against Covid-19, it would create a bigger barrier of people who are unlikely to catch and spread the virus to others.

Finally, the data from the UCR show that Costa Ricans of lower education levels are less likely to receive the vaccine. A campaign targeting those populations could be beneficial at reducing doubts about vaccine safety and efficacy.

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1

It should be noted that the majority of the 210,000 recovered people are included among the 3.7 million adults in line to be vaccinated. However, there are likely thousands who were exposed to the virus but never developed symptoms and thus were never counted among the recovered.

3

1.3 million unvaccinated children + 740,000 unvaccinated adults = 2.04 million unvaccinated Costa Ricans vs. 2.96 million vaccinated ones.