Last week, the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The Health Secretary Matt Hancock has claimed that Brexit allowed the UK to authorise a vaccine more quickly than the European Union, although the chief executive of the MHRA, Dr June Raine, said on Wednesday that “we have been able to authorise the supply of this vaccine using provisions under European law, which exist until 1 January.” The speed of the vaccine authorisation has led to cautious criticism from the European Union’s drug regulators who are opting for a slower approach. Unlike the UK, European Union member states are collectively purchasing, approving, and administering the v1accine, taking a coordinated approach.
A poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on 25 November found that majorities in France (60%), Germany (75%), Italy (75%), and Spain (68%) think it is likely that a coronavirus vaccine will become available within the next year. Nevertheless, a quarter (24%) in France and significant minorities in Germany (15%), Italy (16%), and Spain (17%) think is it unlikely that a vaccine will become available within the next year.
Those that voted for right-leaning parties and candidates in their country’s most recent election were more likely to be sceptical that a vaccine will become available in the next year. In France, less than a fifth (18%) of those who voted for Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the 2017 Presidential Election think it is unlikely that there will be a vaccine compared to 30% of those who voted for Marine Le Pen. In Germany, more than a quarter (27%) of those who voted for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in the 2017 General Election think a vaccine is unlikely in the next year compared to just 11% and 12% who voted for Christlich-Demokratische Union (CDU) and Sozialdemokratische Partei (SPD) respectively. In Spain, 2019 Vox and La Fiesta del Pueblo (PP) voters were the most likely to think a vaccine is unlikely.
While the European Union is taking a coordinated approach to vaccinations, virus uptake between countries could vary significantly. A plurality (43%) of the French public say they will not get a coronavirus vaccine if one becomes available at little to no financial cost within the next year, a rise of 4% since early October.
Younger people in France are less likely to say they will get the vaccination, with a plurality (44%) of 18-to-24-year-olds and majorities of 25-to-34-year-olds (54%) and 35-to-44-year-olds (52%) saying they will not get the vaccine. Furthermore, there are large political differences. Almost half (48%) of those that voted for Emmanuel Macron say they will get the vaccination and less than a third (31%) will not. On the other hand, nearly half (48%) of those that voted for Marine Le Pen say they will not get the vaccine while just a quarter (26%) would. Overall, self-reported willingness to get the vaccine is very low in France.
Meanwhile, approximately half of the German (51%), Italian (57%), and Spanish (49%) public say they will get the vaccination, but there is sizeable opposition in all three nations (18% to 29%).
In Germany, younger people are less likely to say they will be vaccinated, with only 42% of 18-to-24-year-olds saying they will and 40% saying they will not. By contrast, almost two-thirds (63%) of those in Germany aged 65 and over say they will get vaccinated.
Again, there are political differences between right-leaning and left-leaning parties. In Germany, the majority (57%) of AfD voters say they would not get the vaccination, whereas only 21% of CDU and SPD voters hold this view. In Italy, 2018 Partito Democratico (PD) voters were 20% more likely to say they would get a vaccination than Movimento Cinque Stelle (53%), Lega (50%), or Forza Italia (59%) voters. In Spain, a plurality (44%) of 2019 Vox voters say they will not get the vaccination, while the majority of voters for the other parties said they would get the vaccine.
The European public have significant concerns about the safety of the vaccine. Majorities in France (52%), Italy (53%), and Spain (71%) and a plurality in Germany (46%) are worried that the public pressure for a vaccine will lead to the Government, regulators, and pharmaceutical companies lowering the standard of vaccine. In Germany, a quarter (24%) disagree, which may because BioNTech, which produced the vaccine in partnership with Pfizer, is a German company. Nevertheless, a large portion of the European public are concerned that the quality of the vaccine may suffer due to public pressure.
Of those who said they would get themselves vaccinated, majorities in France (54%), Germany (52%), and Italy (54%) say they would get themselves vaccinated as soon as possible, yet significant minorities (39% to 43%) say they will wait a few months to see the effects if has on other people. In Spain, a plurality (49%) would opt to observe the vaccine’s effects on others for a few months first. Given the significant number who have indicated that they would not get themselves vaccinated straight away, even those that are willing to get the vaccine at some point may need encouragement.
On the other hand, of those who indicated that they will not get themselves vaccinated if a jab becomes available, pluralities in France (47%) and Italy (43%) and the majority in Germany (51%) say there are no circumstances under which they will get themselves vaccinated against coronavirus. Self-reported willingness to get vaccinated is low in these European countries, and it is also not clear what might convince those who are reluctant to get vaccinated.
Several private sector companies––such as the airline Qantas––have suggested that immunisation may be mandatory to use their services or work with them. But only approximately a tenth of people in France (10%), Germany (11%), and Italy (8%) who do not intend to get a vaccine say they would reconsider getting vaccinated if their employment situation required it.
In Spain, a third (33%) of those who said they would not get themselves vaccinated say they would consider vaccination if a high number of people take the vaccine first, compared to just 11% in France, 14% in Germany, and 17% in Italy. Less than a third (31%) of Spaniards say there are no circumstances under which they will not get vaccinated against coronavirus, suggesting that a significant number of those initially unwilling to get the jab could be persuaded. Moreover, a fifth (19%) would reconsider vaccination if their employment situation required immunisation, and 29% say they would consider getting vaccinated if the Prime Minister does the same, compared to just 7% in France and Italy, and 5% in Germany.
Given that the European Union has not ordered enough vaccines to inoculate all residents, there has been significant debate surrounding who should get the limited numbers of vaccines. Some have argued that it makes more sense to vaccinate the younger generation first as they are more likely to spread the virus. But majorities in France (65%), Germany (70%), Italy (74%), and Spain (71%) think the older generation should be prioritised because they are more likely to die from the virus.
The vast majority in all of the countries polled (66-75%) think that all members of the Government should take the vaccine to ensure the public trust in the safety of the coronavirus vaccine.
The approval and administration of a coronavirus vaccine is being hailed as a saviour from the pandemic. Indeed, majorities in France (55%), Germany (60%), Italy (69%), and Spain (69%) think lockdowns will continue to be necessary until there is a vaccine or other solution. On the other hand, less than a third in France (31%), Germany (30%), Italy (23%), and Spain (25%) think we should not lockdown and we must get used to living with the virus.
Furthermore, strong majorities in Germany (62%), Italy (61%), and Spain (64%), and a plurality in France (46%) think the coronavirus situation in their country can only be controlled when a vaccine is found.
Nevertheless, pluralities in France (43%) and Germany (44%) and majorities in Italy (61%) and Spain (54%) also agree that there may be other means of controlling the coronavirus situation in their country apart from a vaccine. The European public on one hand believe that the pandemic can only be controlled when a vaccine is found, yet also feel that there are other ways of controlling the situation.