As the coronavirus pandemic stretches on, the public is increasingly impatient for a solution to the crisis. Despite “flattening the curve” and other measures, the situation may not return to ‘normal’ until greater guarantees that people can interact without contracting the virus exist. Of course, many people do not want to socially distance, wear masks, avoid meeting with friends and family and live under the possibility of another lockdown for years.
Scientists in the UK and worldwide have therefore rushed to research and test potential vaccines against SARS-CoV-2. Many candidates have recently entered clinical trials, including a prominent trial at the University of Oxford. At the same time, several companies have focused on distribution and are prepared to produce millions of doses once a vaccine gets approved, with the intention of making vaccines widely available at little-to-no cost.
Nevertheless, a vaccine for coronaviruses has not yet been discovered. In fact, an effective coronavirus vaccine may not ever be found. With this uncertainty, there remains the question that if it comes forward that a vaccine has been found and has passed clinical trials, will the public actually take the vaccine?
With this question in mind, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled the UK public this week and found that the vast majority (71%) say they would get vaccinated if a coronavirus vaccine becomes available at little to no financial cost within the next year. Without any explanation into what such a vaccine would look like, a strong majority across all demographics expressing a willingness to get vaccinated, including 80% above the age of 55.
Of those who do not wish to get vaccinated (13% of the overall sample), the majority (64%) do not consider the coronavirus to be a threat to their health. These respondents do not fear the virus, so they do not see the necessity of taking the vaccine.
A plurality (35%) of this group that will not take the vaccine, would not get vaccinated under any circumstances, not even when assured of its safety. These respondents would not budge if their GP advised that it was safe nor if more than a few million people in the UK took the vaccine first. It is thus mostly likely that this group is against vaccination as a matter of principle. Yet this plurality among this group amounts to about only 5% of all respondents in the entire sample, indicating that the vast majority of the public will, as a default, trust what is presented to them as an effective vaccine.
Similarly, just as the majority of those who will definitely not get vaccinated do not see the coronavirus as a threat, the majority (58%) of those who don’t know if they will get vaccinated similarly are unsure of whether the virus is a threat to their health. Since these respondents are uncertain whether they fear the virus, deciding whether to get vaccinated is a less urgent priority.
Unlike those who have decided for certain, however, this group tends to trust vaccines if they are proven to be safe. A plurality (38%) of these respondents would consider getting vaccinated if their general physicians advised that the vaccine was safe, while 33% would do so if a high number of people in the UK took the vaccine before them. Since there is such strong demand for a coronavirus vaccine, some of this group may rightfully worry that trials may be rushed and might compromise on vaccine quality and safety.
The challenge is significant. There has never been a successful vaccine for previous coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, and the speed in which researchers hope to create a vaccine is unprecedented. While scientists around the world collaborate to find an effective vaccine, the UK public say they are ready to take the vaccine when it comes, but this willingness likely comes under the assumption that a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine would be akin to any other ordinary vaccine. With such strong trust in science and vaccines in general by the public, extreme caution must be emphasised to avoid rushing the research process and thereby bypassing the scientific process altogether.