A year of COVID-19: Global attitudes to vaccination

YouGov
May 25, 2021, 1:04 PM UTC

Since April 2020, YouGov and Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation have collaborated on a global survey designed to explore the global public’s attitudes, behaviours, and perceptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Designed with the help of a group of clinical and technical experts and conducted in 29 countries, areas, and territories, the ongoing survey provides a window into how opinion has shifted over the crisis so far.  

Since November, YouGov and ICL have also tracked attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination across the globe in 14 countries – examining whether people are willing to take the vaccine, whether they trust it, and how easy it is to access a coronavirus jab in a respondent’s country of residence.  

Most of the global public are willing to get vaccinated  

Our study shows that willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine among people who have not yet received one has increased in 13 out of 14 countries – with Australia the exception to that rule. There, half of the public were definitely willing get a vaccine (51%) as of April 2021 but that proportion has declined from 54% in November 2020. In Australia, of course, the virus has been successfully controlled by border and isolation measures so it’s perhaps not surprising that the public don’t see a need for further precaution – although that’s something which may change as and when travel restrictions are relaxed. 

Where willingness has increased, it has, in some cases, dramatically done so. With a smaller and smaller sample of those who have yet to be vaccinated, unwillingness should be emerging as a stronger trend as it becomes the dominant view of the group. However, this is not the case, suggesting that it is fading away amongst those yet to receive their dose.

In Spain, for example, the proportion of the public who would definitely agree to get a COVID-19 vaccination if it were available within a week rose by 26 percentage points (from 28% to 54%). Germany saw a comparably large rise of 20 percentage points (40% - 60%). In Japan and Singapore, vaccine willingness was also a minority position in November 2020 – but by April 2021, over half of each country’s respective population were willing to get a COVID-19 jab (Japan 55%; Singapore 51%).   

The only country where less than half the population would definitely get a vaccine is France. While willingness trended upwards by 14 percentage points, just two in five (39%) would get the shot as of April 2021. 

Concerns about vaccine side effects are decreasing  

France’s low willingness to take a vaccine may be partially linked to concerns around side effects: with three in five members of the French public worried about the unwanted consequences of a COVID-19 jab (60%), the country has the highest level of concern across every country we polled. That said, concerns have fallen from November 2020 (66%). 

The picture is, however, rosier in other countries. The UK, for example, saw a decrease of 19 percentage points over the first six months of the national vaccine rollout – falling from 46% to 27% between November and April. Most other nations saw a less dramatic decline, but overall, in 12 of the 14 countries where we asked the question, concerns about side effects diminished.  

Vaccine trust is high 

In most countries in our study, vaccine trust stayed at similar levels between January and April 2021: in 12 of the 14 nations polled, a majority said they trusted COVID-19 jabs from the beginning; by April 2021, this was true of everywhere but Japan – where 47% of the public said they trusted the vaccines either “Very Much” or “Moderately”. 

The most significant increase was seen in Singapore – where the proportion who said they trusted COVID-19 vaccines rose by 12 percentage points (from 61% in January to 73% in April). In France, the public’s greater-than-average levels of suspicion may offer another explanation for the nation’s low willingness to get vaccinated: with just 53% saying they trust coronavirus vaccines compared to 83% of Italians, 77% of the UK public, 70% of the Spanish public, and 60% of Germans, it is the most distrusting European nation in our study.  

Vaccine accessibility is improving – but jabs may still be hard to get  

Beyond perceptions of the vaccine, the data suggests that accessibility is improving. The proportion who said a vaccine would not be hard for them to get decreased between January and April in 9 out of 14 countries.  

Nordic countries have generally higher rates of people who say it would not be hard to access a COVID-19 shot (Denmark 51%; Sweden 47%; Norway 50%), but the picture is more mixed across Europe. In the UK and Spain, for example, approaching half of the public (47% UK; 49% Spain) believe they could get vaccinated without difficulty, compared to just two in five Germans (40%) and 37% of Italians. France, again, is at the bottom of the table, with just a third (34%) believing it would not be hard to get vaccinated.  

In most of these 14 countries, YouGov and ICL’s data indicates that willingness to take a coronavirus vaccine – and trust in vaccines –  is increasing, concern around the possible side effects of these vaccines is decreasing, but, while ease of access is improving, it still has some way to go. However, in countries like France, scepticism, lower-than-average trust, and the difficulty of acquiring a vaccine may indicate that public information campaigns have not yet struck the right chord.  

Download the full report here