Unlike in Britain, Vaccine Scepticism in Continental Europe Remains High

March 12, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Coronavirus | Coronavirus Vaccine | Health | The European Union

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Last week, the UK Government announced that more than 20 million Britons have had their first coronavirus vaccine. Meanwhile, the European Union’s vaccine scheme has been criticised for its relatively slow vaccine rollout. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has admitted that there have been failings in the EU vaccination programme. Tensions between the UK and the EU have been slowly rising, sparked by a dispute in January between the EU and  AstraZeneca over vaccine supply and heightened when the French and German governments raised concerns about the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination that they later backtracked from.

The latest poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies found that 42% of British respondents said they have had a coronavirus vaccine, compared to only 9% in France, 8% in Italy, and 7% in Germany. It is important to note that this result does not dispute official figures. Rather, it illustrates how our samples closely mirror the official figures from each country.

Our research finds that only 8% of British respondents who say they have already received a vaccine also say they have had two doses, compared to 68% in Germany, 63% in France, and 60% in Italy. These figures demonstrate how the UK is prioritising giving single doses to as many individuals as possible rather than giving two doses within a shorter timeframe but to fewer people; early data shows that the UK strategy is working. Meanwhile, European countries are focusing on providing two doses within a relatively short timeframe (which the data also shows to be effective), but at the expense of vaccinating more people with a first dose.

Among French respondents who say they have not been vaccinated, a plurality (42%) say they will not get themselves vaccinated when a vaccine is offered to them, compared to just 37% who say they will. While willingness for taking the vaccine has increased since November, a consistent plurality in France has stated they will not get the vaccinated since October.

Interestingly, less than a third of unvaccinated French women (31%) say they will get the vaccine, compared to a plurality (43%) of unvaccinated French men who say they will get vaccinated. Furthermore, there are stark differences between age groups, with the majority of 18-to-24-year-olds (54%) and 24-to-35-year-olds (56%) saying they will not get the vaccine. 47% of those 65 and over—the most vulnerable group to coronavirus—say they will get the vaccine, but a significant minority of this vulnerable age group (35%) say they will not get vaccinated.

On the other hand, willingness to be vaccinated has increased since November in other European countries, with a majority of the unvaccinated in Germany (63%) and Italy (71%) saying they will get the vaccination, compared to approximately half of respondents in November.

In Germany, there are also differences between the genders, with 69% of unvaccinated male respondents saying they would get the vaccine compared to 57% of unvaccinated German women. Younger respondents in Germany are also less willing to get the vaccine than their older counterparts, with opposition reaching 37% among unvaccinated 18-to-24-year-olds. While a plurality in each age group in Germany states they will get the vaccine, a significant minority say they will not.

In Italy, men (75%) are slightly more likely to say they will get the vaccine than women (68%), but vaccine scepticism remains low across the entire Italian sample, and younger respondents are just as likely to say they will get vaccinated as older respondents—unlike in Germany and France.

Willingness to take the vaccine in Germany and Italy is almost as high as in Great Britain: 76% of unvaccinated British respondents say they will take the vaccine when it is offered to them.

Unlike in France and Germany, willingness to get vaccinated is consistent across age groups and genders in Britain.

British respondents are the most optimistic about when it may be possible for them to get vaccinated, with 19% saying within two months, 18% within three months, and 19% within six months. 14% think it will only be possible for them to be vaccinated more than six months from now. By stark contrast, the majority (52%) of Italian respondents who have not been vaccinated and pluralities of French (47%) and German (38%) respondents think it will be more than six months before they will be able to get vaccinated against coronavirus.

Among those who are willing to get vaccinated in France, 90% say it matters to them which specific coronavirus vaccine they receive, even if all options been approved for use in the European Union. Meanwhile, only 53% of this subgroup in Italy says the specific coronavirus vaccination matters, along with 45% of the subgroup in Germany. By contrast, only 28% of unvaccinated but willing British respondents say it matters to them which vaccine they have.

Shortly after the European Union approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination, President Emmanuel Macron said that the vaccine seemed “quasi-ineffective” on older people. While the French Government has since reversed its stance on the vaccine, Macron’s casting of doubt on the vaccine, coupled with already high levels of vaccine scepticism in France, could explain why so many French people care about exactly which vaccine they are given. Similarly, Angela Merkel has stated that she will not get the AstraZeneca vaccine because German authorities have not approved the vaccine for those over 65, leading to large numbers of doses being left unused.

Yet, while leaders have been questioning the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rather than its safety, they may have also negatively impacted public perception of the vaccine’s safety: only 32% of German respondents and 23% of French respondents say they would feel safe taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. On the other hand, half (50%) of Italian respondents say they would consider it safe, perhaps owing to the fact that Italian leaders have not criticised this vaccine in the same way Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have.

The most favoured vaccine in France is the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, yet even then, the French public are divided on its safety. 37% say they would feel safe having the vaccine, compared to 38% who say they would feel unsafe. Pluralities in France say they would feel unsafe taking the vaccines produced by Moderna (41%), Oxford-AstraZeneca (51%), SinoVac (56%), Sputnik V (53%), and Johnson & Johnson (43%). Feelings of safety were low for all of the vaccines, regardless of whether they have been approved for administration or not.

In Germany, the majority consider the Pfizer-BioNTech (64%) and Moderna (50%) vaccines to be safe, and are divided on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, despite it not being approved (35% safe, 35% unsafe). 47% of German respondents consider the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be unsafe, despite its approval by the European Medicines Agency. Slim majorities in Germany consider the Russian Sputnik V vaccine (52%) and Chinese SinoVac (55%) to be unsafe.

In Italy, unlike its European neighbours, majorities consider the Oxford-AstraZenenca (50%), Pfizer-BioNTech (65%), and Moderna (54%) vaccines to be safe. However, a significant 29% consider the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to be unsafe. A plurality of Italians (41%) would feel safe having the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while pluralities would feel unsafe having the SinoVac (41%) or Sputnik V (36%) vaccines.

Majorities of the British public consider the Oxford-AstraZenca (76%), Pfizer-BioNTech (74%) and Moderna (50%) vaccines to be safe. Few people consider any of the approved vaccines to be unsafe (10% to 13%). Almost half (48%) consider the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be safe, even though it has not been approved for use in the UK yet; 15% consider it unsafe. Pluralities say they “don’t know” how safe they would feel having the Sputnik V (42%) or SinoVac (43%) vaccines, suggesting the British public could be persuaded if these vaccines are approved. Britain is the only country polled where pluralities say they “don’t know” if the Sputnik V and SinoVac vaccines are safe or unsafe, as oppose to outright saying they are unsafe.

Overall, vaccine scepticism is very high in France, while willingness to take the vaccine in Germany and Italy is higher but not as high as in Britain. Moreover, our research finds differences between genders and age groups when it comes to willingness to take the vaccine in some of the European countries polled. While comments made by the French and German governments were about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine and not about its safety, the French and German public are now doubting the safety of the AstraZeneca, prompting both governments to backtrack: recently, Emanuel Macron has stated that he would have the AstraZeneca vaccine in a bid to overcome hostility towards the vaccine within France. Ultimately, our polling shows that there is a significant degree of vaccine scepticism in Europe vaccines that will need to be overcome if EU member states are to succeed in their vaccination efforts—and this scepticism appears to be largely absent in Britain.

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. Follow us on Twitter

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