On Monday 20th July, The Lancet published encouraging results from the first phase of the clinical trials for the AZD1222 coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, raising hopes a potential vaccine may be in sight. 

We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies conducted a poll on the 22nd of July to find out more about the British public’s views on vaccination against coronavirus.

Support for the vaccine has been relatively steady throughout the month of July, with 68% of UK respondents on July 22nd saying they will get vaccinated within the next year if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available at little to no financial cost, compared to 71% who agreed on July 1st, a variation that is very close to the margin of error of this poll. Only 16% say they will not get vaccinated, while a further 16% don’t know.

By way of comparison, in late June, we found that only 48% of French respondents intend on getting vaccinated within the next year if a vaccine becomes available. The far lower level underlines the relative enthusiasm and willingness among the British public to get vaccinated. French responses may change into July and August as the prospect of a vaccine becomes more real, however the responses are also reflective of the deep scepticism embedded in the French public. Research suggests the British public has more general trust for scientists and vaccines than France, perhaps also explaining the countries’ differing responses.

At the same time, the public’s willingness to be vaccinated has not translated into optimism about the likelihood of finding a vaccine by the end of next year. While Professor Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University has suggested a vaccine may in fact be available by the end of this year, only 41% of respondents think it is likely that a vaccine will become available by the end of next year. The caution of the British public is revealed by the 30% who think it is a tossup whether there will be a vaccine by the end of next year. 

Nonetheless it is clear that if a vaccine does become available, the British will be willing to be vaccinated. 66% of those willing to be vaccinated, say that they will get vaccinated as soon as possible. 28% say they will wait a few months to see the effects it has on other people, but still get vaccinated during the first year. Only 3% say they will wait until the end of the first year.

The response of the French public again makes a useful comparison. Only a slender majority (51%) of French respondents in June who were willing to get vaccinated, already a smaller pool than the British respondents, said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible. 40% said they would wait a few months.

Despite the UK public’s general openness to a vaccine, 51% of respondents agree that there is so much public pressure for a coronavirus vaccine to be introduced that the Government, regulators, and pharmaceutical companies might lower the standards for approving it. This response highlights the significance placed by the public on a vaccine – in spite of their concerns about safety, a majority are still willing to take the risk and have a vaccine as they know it is key to unlocking the country. 

This response does in fact contain a partisan dimension: 64% of 2019 Labour voters feel worried about a lowering of standards compared to just 43% of 2019 Conservative voters, a consequence perhaps of Labour voters’ greater scepticism in this Government. This partisan breakdown comes despite the fact that the approval of vaccines is not something done by the Government or by elected officials in the UK. 

We found that a plurality of respondents (35%) said they would be prepared to tolerate compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops, supermarkets, and on public transport until a vaccine or effective treatment has been found or the threat of the virus has been eradicated, double the proportion (17%) who said they would only be able to tolerate them until the end of the year. A plurality of the public see a viable vaccine or something similar as the endgame for restrictions, rather than any specific temporal endpoint. The British willingness to be vaccinated may be related to the view that a successful vaccine will allow most restrictions to end.

Supporting this theory, we found that 61% of the public believes that the Government should make it compulsory for everyone in the UK to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available. Only 17% disagree. This result reveals the importance being placed on a vaccine by the British public, and is even more surprising when the Government’s relatively light touch approach to lockdown is considered. The Government has preferred to encourage public compliance with regulations as opposed to using force. Yet, when it comes to a vaccine, the public seem to want firm enforcement.

The excitement around a British-developed vaccine is perhaps helping to drive the willingness of the British public to get vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available. The public also seems very clear about the flexibility that a vaccine would bring back to their lives.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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