Earlier this year, the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine was ruled out for use in certain age groups in many European countries. This was initially due to a seeming lack of evidence for the efficacy of the vaccine in older populations, but was later compounded by the discovery of blood clotting as a rare side effect. Whilst the World Health Organisation and the vaccine’s manufacturers maintain that it is safe and effective, the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies reveals that there remains distinct hesitancy amongst Europeans regarding the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine is relatively low across France, Germany, Italy, and Spain: majorities in France (62%), Germany (59%), and Italy (52%) say that they would feel unsafe taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, along with 43% of respondents in Spain. Among all four countries polled, the Spanish public displays the most confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a plurality (47%) saying they would feel safe taking it.
These results mark a significant increase in the number of respondents that would feel unsafe taking the AstraZeneca vaccine compared to four months ago: in late February, we found that 51% of French respondents, along with 47% of Germans and 29% of Italians, said they would feel unsafe taking the AstraZeneca vaccine. This increase is likely a result of continued concerns regarding the link between rare blood clots and the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, with the EU having advised against people with enhanced risk of blood clots taking their second dose of AstraZeneca. As such, our latest findings suggest that conclusions published by UK and EU regulators in April that blood clots are an extremely rare side effect and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks have failed to assuage the fears of the European public.
By contrast, Pfizer-BioNTech is widely considered to be the safest vaccine across all four countries polled. Majorities of French (60%), German (68%), Italian (75%) and Spanish (79%) respondents say they would feel safe taking the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Especially in the case of France, these results represent a dramatic increase in trust over time: in February, 37% of French respondents said they would feel safe taking the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while 38% said they would feel unsafe (compared to 28% who would feel unsafe now). Levels of confidence have also increased in Germany and Italy, up from 64% and 65% respectively.
Aside from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine is also widely considered to be a safe vaccine: 50% of French respondents (up from 32% in February), 53% of German respondents (up from 50%), 62% of Italian respondents (up from 54%) and 76% of Spanish respondents say they would feel safe taking the Moderna vaccine.
There is less agreement among Europeans on the safety of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. Whereas majorities in Spain (59%) and Italy (51%) would feel safe taking the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, pluralities in France (47%) and Germany (44%) would feel unsafe taking it. This hesitancy could potentially be linked to the pause in the Johnson and Johnson vaccine rollout back in April 2021, after it was also linked to rare instances of blood clots. Indeed, significant minorities of both Italian (32%) and Spanish (26%) respondents would feel unsafe taking the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
The Chinese SinoVac and the Russian Sputnik V vaccines, on the other hand, are widely deemed unsafe by Europeans. A majority of respondents across France (64%), Italy (52%), and Germany (64%) say they would feel unsafe taking the SinoVac vaccine, along with a plurality (46%) of Spanish respondents. Similarly, a majority of French (64%) and German (58%) respondents would feel unsafe taking the Sputnik V vaccine, as would a plurality of Italian (49%) and Spanish (49%) respondents. These results come despite the Sputnik V vaccine showing 92% efficacy in trials back in February 2021, and SinoVac being recommended for usage by the WHO after it showed efficacy in preventing transmission, hospitalisations, and deaths.
These differences in respondents’ views on whether they would feel safe or unsafe taking a certain vaccine are also reflected in respondents’ assessment of different vaccines’ efficacy. As such, when respondents are asked to rate their confidence in the ability of each vaccine to protect the recipient from getting seriously ill due to coronavirus on a scale from 0 (not at all confident) to 5 (very confident), we observe important differences both between vaccines and between countries.
Overall, the French public is the least confident in each respective vaccine’s ability to protect its recipient from getting seriously ill due to coronavirus, followed by the German and Italian publics. The Spanish public, by contrast, is generally the most confident in each vaccine’s ability to protect against serious illness due to coronavirus.
In the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine, for instance, the average rating in France is only 1.8, compared to 2.2 in Germany, 2.5 in Italy, and 2.9 in Spain. In line with a more widespread belief in the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the average confidence rating for this vaccine stands at 3.1 in France, 3.2 in Germany, 3.5 in Italy, and 3.7 in Spain.
Further, French respondents rate their confidence in the Moderna vaccine’s ability to protect its recipients from getting seriously ill due to coronavirus at 2.7 on average, while average confidence ratings in Germany, Italy, and Spain reach 2.8, 3.1, and 3.5 respectively. Possibly reflecting splits in public opinion on its safety, confidence in the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine is somewhat lower across all four countries, with an average rating of 2.1 in France, 2.6 in Germany, 2.9 in Italy, and 3.1 in Spain.
In all four countries polled, confidence is lowest in the SinoVac and Sputnik V vaccines, neither of which is currently approved for use in the EU. In France, both vaccines achieve respective confidence ratings of 1.4, and German respondents rate their confidence in SinoVac and Sputnik V at a respective 1.7 and 2.0 on average. In Italy, these two vaccines achieve average confidence ratings of 2.0 and 2.2 respectively, while Spanish respondents rate their confidence in both vaccines to protect their recipients from getting seriously ill due to coronavirus at 2.2 on average.
These results thus provide further evidence that Europeans’ views on the safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines differ significantly, both between countries and vaccines.
Indeed, large majorities of respondents who have not yet received a vaccine but intend to get themselves vaccinated say they care about which specific coronavirus vaccine they receive: 89% of such respondents in France and 72% of such respondents in Germany, as well as 67% in Italy and 58% in Spain, say it matters to them which specific vaccine among those approved for use in the EU they receive. With many in these countries yet to receive their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, our results thus suggest that the availability of certain vaccines may play a role in determining respondents’ willingness to get themselves inoculated.
Currently, our research finds that among respondents yet to receive a jab, 32% of respondents in Spain, along with 45% of Germans, 61% of Italians, and 75% of Spaniards, say they will get themselves vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available to them at little to no financial cost within the next year.
While these figures on willingness to get vaccinated are lower than what we observed in February 2021, they do not necessarily represent a rise in vaccine hesitancy. Rather, with the continued rollout of each country’s vaccination programme, many of those previously saying they were willing to get vaccinated have now received at least a first dose since February. Consequently, the composition of the unvaccinated sub-sample in all four countries will have changed, with those hesitant to receive a coronavirus vaccine now representing a higher proportion of those unvaccinated, even though their absolute number may not have changed significantly or even decreased since February.
Overall, our research shows that Europeans broadly have confidence in the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, are relatively divided on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and have low levels of confidence in the Oxford-AstraZeneca, SinoVac, and Sputnik V vaccines. We note that the number of those who would feel safe taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has decreased across Europe in recent months, potentially reflective of the negative press the vaccine has received. Furthermore, majorities of unvaccinated respondents who are willing to be vaccinated in all four countries feel it matters which vaccine they receive out of those approved for use in the EU, suggesting that the success of these nations’ respective rollouts will depend on their ability to secure Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.