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COVID-19 vaccination acceptability and experiences among people who inject drugs in San Diego County

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People who inject drugs (PWID) face increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 acquisition and severe disease, yet COVID-19 vaccine uptake has been suboptimal. To inform vaccination interventions tailored for the needs of this population, we explored COVID-19 vaccination acceptability and experiences among PWID in San Diego County, USA.


From September-November 2021, we conducted qualitative interviews with PWID aged ≥18 years who were participating in a prospective study of infectious disease risks in San Diego. Thematic analysis of coded interview transcripts focused on identifying barriers and facilitators to COVID-19 vaccination.


Of 28 participants, 15 reported having had ≥1 dose of COVID-19 vaccine, primarily received through community health centers, pharmacies, jails, and homeless shelters. We identified three key barriers to COVID-19 vaccination: (1) low perceived risk of COVID-19 (or belief in natural immunity), (2) institutional distrust (e.g., of pharmaceutical companies and government agencies that "rushed" vaccine development, approval, and distribution), and (3) conflicting information from news, social media, and peers. We also identified three key facilitators of vaccination, including (1) heightened personal and interpersonal safety concerns, (2) health service outreach efforts to make vaccines more accessible, and (3) tailored information delivered by trusted sources (e.g., outreach or community health workers).


Tailored intervention strategies to increase acceptability and uptake of COVID-19 vaccination among PWID should involve efforts to increase vaccine literacy and motivation while decreasing institutional distrust and structural barriers to access.

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