Despite the availability of effective vaccines that lower mortality and morbidity associated with COVID-19, many countries including Italy have adopted strict vaccination policies and mandates to increase the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine. Such mandates have sparked debates on the freedom to choose whether or not to get vaccinated. In this study, we examined the people's belief in vaccine choice as a predictor of willingness to get vaccinated among a sample of unvaccinated individuals in Italy. An online cross-sectional survey was conducted in Italy in May 2021. The survey collected data on respondents' demographics and region of residence, socioeconomic factors, belief in the freedom to choose to be vaccinated or not, risk perception of contracting and transmitting the disease, previous vaccine refusal, opinion on adequacy of government measures to address the pandemic, experience in requesting and being denied government aid during the pandemic, and intent to accept COVID-19 vaccination. The analysis employed binary logistic regression models using a hierarchical model building approach to assess the association between intent to accept vaccination and belief in the freedom to choose to vaccinate, while adjusting for other variables of interest. 984 unvaccinated individuals were included in the study. Respondents who agreed that people should be free to decide whether or not to vaccinate with no restrictions on their personal life had 85% lower odds of vaccine acceptance (OR = 0.15; 95% CI, 0.09,0.23) after adjusting for demographic and socioeconomic factors and their risk perception of contracting and transmitting COVID-19. Belief in the freedom to choose whether or not to accept vaccinations was a major predictor of COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among a sample of unvaccinated individuals in Italy in May 2021. This understanding of how individuals prioritize personal freedoms and the perceived benefits and risks of vaccines, when making health care decisions can inform the development of public health outreach, educational programs, and messaging.
Keywords: COVID-19; vaccine freedom; vaccine hesitancy.