This week, early data from Moderna, a US-based pharmaceutical company, has revealed that their coronavirus vaccine is 94.5% effective. It is not yet known how long immunity will last once the vaccine is administered, and it is not clear whether the vaccine stops the spread of the virus, or simply stops serious illness. The announcement from Moderna was shortly followed by Pfizer concluding that its vaccine was 95% effective, after previous reports indicating 90% effectiveness. However, while the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer jab, it will need to be kept at minus seventy degrees Celsius, posing severe logistical challenges.
Despite the challenges and uncertainties associated with the Pfizer and Moderna jabs, the proportion of the British public who think a coronavirus vaccine will likely become available within the next year continues to rise. Currently, around three quarters (74%) think a coronavirus vaccine will become available in the next twelve months, whereas only a small minority (13%) now think it is unlikely. Male respondents (78%) are slightly more confident that a vaccine will become available than female respondents (70%).
An increasing proportion of younger people (60% this week, compared to 53% last week) say that a vaccine is likely to become available within 12 months. Older respondents remain particularly optimistic: 88% of those aged 65 or above and 82% of those aged 55-64 think a vaccine will be available by November 2021. In addition, 2019 Conservative voters (85%) are also somewhat more confident that a vaccine will soon be available than Labour voters (71%).
At this stage, neither vaccine has been approved by the regulators. In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care, is the regulator responsible for approving vaccine. The MHRA is also advised by the government’s independent advisory body, the Commission on Human Medicines. The Government has recently given the MHRA the ability to grant temporary authorisation for any coronavirus vaccine that meets safety and quality standards, regardless of whether it has received a full license from the European Medicines Agency.
Almost half (49%) of respondents agreed with a statement expressing worry that, due to the public pressure for a coronavirus vaccine, the Government, regulators, and pharmaceutical companies will lower the standards for a vaccine to be approved. Overall, only 28% disagree that the relevant stakeholders will compromise standards when approving the vaccine. Younger adults are particularly worried: 56-58% of those aged 18-44 agree with this concern that standards for vaccine approval will be lowered. Likewise, female respondents (53%) are somewhat more inclined to agree with this worry than male respondents (44%).
Despite the extensive process for approving a vaccine in the UK, a party-political dimension can also be observed: whereas only 43% of 2019 Conservative voters agree that standards will be lowered (still a clear plurality of the sub-sample), 56% of 2019 Labour supporters think they will be. This result suggests those who are less inclined to support the Government in general are more likely to be worried about a Government agency approved vaccine than those who elected the Government.
Concern that usual safety standards may be compromised could be a key reason why only two thirds (66%) of the British public are certain that they would get vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available within the next year. Indeed, 17% of respondents say they will not get vaccinated, and a further 18% don’t know. This result is the same as last week, yet the proportion of British respondents who say they would get vaccinated is slightly lower than on 18 June (71%) and 22 July (68%) indicating that further announcements about potentially effective vaccines are having little impact on public trust. Nevertheless, at this stage, British respondents remain more willing to get vaccinated than those in France (37%), Germany (57%), and Italy (55%) were during our European polling in October.
Notably, willingness to get vaccinated has declined among younger people. Currently, less than half (48%) of those aged 18-24 say they will definitely get vaccinated, compared to 58% a week ago. Meanwhile, older respondents are increasingly willing to get vaccinated: 86% of respondents aged 65 or older say they will get vaccinated. Particular scepticism among younger people in this instance is consistent with our findings regarding other aspects of the coronavirus. For example, younger people are more sceptical about the efficacy of lockdowns, and also display higher levels of awareness and receptiveness with alternative strategies for combating the pandemic.
Among those who indicated they will get themselves vaccinated, two thirds (67%) say they will get vaccinated as soon as possible. However, 28% believe they will wait a few months to see the effects the vaccine has on other people.
Moreover, a plurality (48%) of 18-24-year olds who are willing to take the vaccine will wait a few months to see the effects the vaccine has on other people. Those who are employed and working (66%) are much more likely to get vaccinated as soon as possible than those who are employed but furloughed (51%).
While younger people are clearly more reluctant to get vaccinated in general, and are particularly sceptical about being vaccinated immediately, this could potentially reflect a desire among the young for the older population to get vaccinated first. Indeed, the overwhelming majority (69%) of the British public—and a clear majority (57-59%) of those aged 18-34-years old—think the Government should prioritise vaccinating older people, who are otherwise more likely to suffer from the virus. Only 15% of the overall sample say the young should be vaccinated first.
Parents or guardians of school aged children are more likely (21%) to say the young should be vaccinated first compared to those who do not have school aged children (12%). Even so, a clear majority (63%) of parents still say that older people should be prioritised.
Meanwhile, a clear plurality (45%) of those who say they will not get vaccinated consider that there are no circumstances under which they would get vaccinated. This proportion equates to 8% of the overall sample. Nevertheless, nearly a fifth (19%) of those who initially stated an unwillingness to get vaccinated would take a vaccine if a high number of people in the UK took the vaccine. Moreover, 13% of those initially unwilling to get vaccinated would get vaccinated if their GP advised them that the vaccine is safe, and 12% would get vaccinated if their employment situation required it.
Overall, three quarters (75%) of respondents think that all members of the Government should take the vaccine to ensure that the public trust in its safety, while only 5% disagree.
Amid a spate of updates from pharmaceutical companies about the progress of their vaccination trials, the British public are sceptical about the safety of a potential vaccine. The proportion of respondents who will not take a vaccine remains stable from last week and is slightly lower than it was in the summer, although sections of this group could be persuaded to take a vaccination by certain circumstances. A significant minority of those willing to get vaccinated will not vaccinated immediately, although older people are keener to take a vaccine.