Eight months ago, when people across the world were sheltering from the coronavirus inside their homes, many were hoping that scientists would discover a vaccine to put an end to the nightmare. But now that Europe is facing a second wave, Spaniards are less sure they want to get vaccinated. According to a survey by the pollster 40dB for EL PAÍS, 24.1% would get vaccinated as soon as possible, but 36.9% would wait some time before doing so. Another 20.6% would only accept the vaccine if it were strictly necessary, while 13.1% would never get vaccinated. The survey, based on interviews with 2,000 people, was completed just three days before the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced that its coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective at preventing the disease.
If the survey results are broken down by age, the oldest respondents are the group most willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible (29.9%), while the 25-34 age bracket are the least (18%). With respect to political preferences, supporters of the far-right Vox are by far the most reluctant to get vaccinated: 22.3% of voters would never do so, compared to 11.8% for supporters of the conservative Popular Party (PP), 6.2% for the Socialist Party (PSOE) base and 3% of the anti-austerity Unidas Podemos.
Although the results may appear surprising, they confirm what many other previous studies have found, both in Spain and other European countries. According to the October poll by the public CIS research institute, only 40.2% of respondents would get vaccinated “immediately,” while 43.8% would not – up from September’s figure of 40.3%. In a bid to confront this mistrust, the Science Ministry also researched the public’s opinion on coronavirus vaccines. According to its study, carried out by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (Fecyt), respondents fell into three different categories: one third were willing to get vaccinated, another third had doubts and a little under a third had serious reservations. In other words, Spaniards were not completely sure they wanted to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Now that scientists have done their side of the job, all signs indicate that it will be up to psychologists, sociologists and clear communication to ensure that the population accepts the vaccine.
Josep Lobera, the sociologist who oversaw the study for the Science Ministry, believes these perceptions on the coronavirus vaccine are shifting. According to Lobera, Pfizer’s announcement on the effectiveness of its vaccine candidate is likely to have improved Spaniards’ opinion on the subject – the 40dB survey finished on November 6, three days before the news came out. “It is important to contextualize that this suspicion is not specific to Spain: in Europe and many other countries it is also significant, with very similar percentages,” he says.
A global survey by the pollster Ipsos in October showed that there were big differences in how willing people were to get vaccinated between the world’s main countries. But despite these differences, interest in getting vaccinated against the coronavirus had fallen in almost every one since August: in Spain, from 72% to 64%, Italy and the United States recorded a similar drop, while in France, it fell from 59% to 54%. The CIS survey and the study from the Science Ministry also found that Vox voters had the most reservations about a vaccine against the coronavirus.
Fake news and conspiracy theories
But where are these misgivings coming from? Distrust of science and the authorities can help breed these doubts. Another significant factor is how quickly fake news and conspiracy theories on vaccines are spreading on social media. Public opinion on getting vaccinated also varies depending on the characteristics of the vaccine. A study published by the US Medical Association found that US citizens would be more likely to get vaccinated if the treatment was 90% effective, than if it was 50% or 70% effective. Respondents were also more willing to get vaccinated if it had less likelihood of causing side effects and would be much more disposed to one developed in the US or Britain, than one in China.
A study from Cambridge University also found that misgivings on coronavirus vaccines are clearly linked to belief in conspiracy theories about the virus. And that is where the 40dB survey made some other surprising findings. According to the poll, 40% of Spaniards believe “there is a conspiracy behind the coronavirus vaccines.” This figure rises to 55% among Vox voters, but is much less among supporters of the coalition government of PSOE and Unidas Podemos, falling to 29% and 25%, respectively. The survey found that 65% of Spaniards believe the coronavirus was deliberately created in a laboratory (85% among Vox voters), even though this idea has been widely discredited. A week before the 40dB survey was conducted, Spanish television presenter Iker Jiménez interviewed a Chinese virologist, known for spreading this conspiracy theory, in a program on television network Telecinco that was seen by nearly three million viewers. The interview was later covered in several media outlets.
Spain has seen a wide range of protests and demonstrations related to the pandemic. According to the 40dB survey, 6.7% of respondents said they had participated in a protest in support of health workers, while 34% said they would be willing to support one. Only 2% had demonstrated against coronavirus restrictions, while 13% supported them. Vox supporters were the most supportive of these protests: 6.3% had protested against coronavirus restrictions and 26.5% were willing to do so – more than double the overall average.
English version by Melissa Kitson.