(Image: AAP/Luis Ascui)

As of early December, about 8.5 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered worldwide. That makes the COVID vaccination effort easily the largest public health intervention in history -- and yet its success has been mixed.

The world’s most vulnerable countries have been denied their fair share of vaccination doses, while in wealthier countries the main problem is not access but hesitancy, often concentrated in specific regions of anti-vaccination sentiment. For example, the eastern German state of Saxony has full vaccination rates of only about 56%, and an infection rate more than twice as high as the country as a whole.

Much of the discussion around COVID vaccine hesitancy has focused on how different the vaccine is from other vaccines. For example, no other vaccine has been developed as quickly. But to view COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy as a new phenomenon neglects the meteoric rise of broader anti-vaccination sentiment worldwide over the past few decades