Poverty & Inequality

Covid-19: Willingness to vaccinate among slum-dwellers

  • Blog Post Date 05 August, 2020
  • Notes from the Field
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Alex Armand

Nova School of Business and Economics


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Britta Augsburg

Institute for Fiscal Studies


Vaccination is among the success stories in modern-day medicine, and is seen by the WHO as a key element of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this note, Augsburg et al. discuss findings from a survey of 4,000 slum dwellers in two cities of Uttar Pradesh, on their willingness to vaccinate and pay for it. They contend that, as billions are poured into a vaccine’s development and tackling supply difficulties, policymakers should also prepare for the next challenges: compliance and ability to pay.


One of the most, if not the most, at-risk groups of Covid-19 is the urban poor, living in overcrowded conditions with very limited access to public health infrastructure. One billion people live in such informal settlements globally; more than half of these are in Asia, and almost a fifth in India. In June 2020, we surveyed 4,000 slum dwellers in two cities in the state of Uttar Pradesh – Lucknow and Kanpur. The heightened risk of this population is clearly visible with 2% of households reporting that someone in their household tested positive for Covid-19, compared to a worldwide infection rate of 0.2%.

Higher willingness to vaccinate among slum dwellers

Vaccination is among the success stories in modern-day medicine, and is seen by the World Health Organization as a key element of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Our data reveal that, contrary to advanced economies, stated willingness to vaccinate is high among this slum-dweller population. Of those surveyed, 95% would like to get the vaccine for Covid-19, while willingness in seven European countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) was at only 74% in April 2020, despite most of these countries experiencing their first peak of cases at this time.

Importantly though, in addition to 5% of the population not willing to get vaccinated, 36% stated that they would only get vaccinated if they did not have to pay for it (Figure 1). 

Figure 1. Willingness to get vaccinated if Covid-19 vaccine is introduced

If payment was required, it is not only those with little means to pay that would not get vaccinated. They are also the ones less likely to be able to adhere to Covid-19 guidance. We find that even after accounting for poverty status, stated willingness to pay for Covid-19 vaccination is positively associated with better knowledge of Covid-19 prevention behaviour and proper handwashing hygiene, greater availability of hygienic items at home, and higher awareness of risk if others do not vaccinate1 (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Relationship between willingness to pay and other factors

Note: Estimates from a linear regression model with slum fixed effects, and controlling for an indicator of strong dwelling, and the respondent’s age, sex, relation to household head, and caste. The fixed effects control for time-invariant unobserved individual characteristics.

We also find that those more anxious about the virus, are less willing to pay for a vaccine. This could be driven by fear of side effects, a major factor for resistance to vaccination against Covid-19 in advanced economies. Extreme anxiety can also generate a loss in hope on the effectiveness of any vaccination to come.

Health officials can play a crucial role in information dissemination

Our data suggest that doctors and health officials can play an important role in disseminating accurate information related to Covid-19 and its potential vaccination. 90% of slum dwellers report that they would turn to these health specialists for advice in case a vaccine against Covid-19 is introduced. This percentage is even higher among those respondents that also report a willingness to pay for any Covid-19 vaccine.

On the contrary, a larger percentage of respondents reporting that they would not look for advice or would get advice from family and friends about the vaccine, are those not willing to pay.

Figure 3. Seeking advice

Policy implications

The implications of our results for policymaking are twofold:

  1. Any future Covid-19 vaccine should not just be sold at cost by the pharmaceutical corporations developing it but also be subsidised, or made available for free to the people. When the social benefits are larger than the private willingness  or ability – to pay, there is scope for public intervention to distribute subsidised or even free vaccines. Evidence suggests that one-off subsidies for preventive health goods could boost long-run adoption (even if having to pay in the future), through learning (Dupas 2014). Given the logistical constraints to expanding coverage rapidly and the less than universal willingness to pay for the vaccine, governments should consider targeting free vaccines to vulnerable people and those in high-risk jobs.
  2. Spreading accurate information about how to prevent Covid-19 is key for vaccine compliance. Misperceptions of ways to prevent Covid-19 can generate a false feeling of safety and reduce the willingness to get vaccinated. Doctors and health experts play an important role in distributing accurate information about any potential vaccine. Our data suggest that social networks and government officials might be useful in reaching those with low willingness to vaccinate, or low willingness to pay for the vaccine. There is evidence that gossip from influential individuals and celebrities endorsing vaccination on social media, improves knowledge about vaccination and compliance (Banerjee et al. 2019, Alatas et al. 2019).

Editor’s note: This note is published in collaboration with the IGC (International Growth Centre) blog.


  1. Agrees with the statement “if my neighbour refuses to get vaccinated for coronavirus, he/she will put at risk my health”.

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