Not all vaccine-skeptics are anti-vaxxers

2021-04-30

The Focus Agency conducted a comprehensive public opinion poll on the population’s attitudes towards vaccination and vulnerability to various conspiracy theories. The poll was commissioned by Political Capital.

Key findings

  • The rejection of COVID-19 vaccines and general skepticism against vaccines are not necessarily connected to each other. There are individuals who believe vaccines in general have more disadvantages than benefits and, yet, they see vaccines as an effective solution against the current problem, the coronavirus pandemic. There are even more respondents who reject COVID-19 vaccines even though they are generally supportive of vaccines.
  • Those who are generally skeptical of vaccines are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories than those who are “only” skeptical of COVID jabs. In the latter group, fears and concerns about, for instance, potential side-effects are more prevalent.
  • The group uncertain about their assessment of vaccines has largely the same views as the general population on most issues included in the poll. This, first of all, indicates that they cannot navigate the plethora of information they receive and, second, that they could be convinced of the benefits of vaccines with a well-targeted communication campaign.
  • The attitudes of V4 member states’ populations are relatively similar, but there are differences. The proportion of respondents who would definitely get the jab is by far the lowest in Czechia, which does not mean that the proportion of anti-vaxxers is particularly high in the country. Open anti-vaccination attitudes are faltering in the region, but it remains relatively high in Poland (14%). This proportion is only 4% in Hungary.

The five vaccination groups

When assessing results, we combined the data from the four countries to be able to observe correlations in the 4,000 people sample more accurately.

We measured general attitudes on vaccinations based on answers to the statement “Vaccines cause more problems than they solve.”[i] Then, we added respondents’ willingness to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19 to the equation. Based on the results, we categorized respondents into five groups:

  • Anti-vaxxers: This encompasses respondents who would not vaccinate themselves against COVID-19 and agreed with the aforementioned statements related to vaccines in general.
  • General vaccine skeptics: Respondents who agreed with the statement on vaccines but would get the COVID-19 jab or had already done so.
  • COVID vaccine skeptics: Respondents who are generally not against vaccinations but would not get the COVID-19 jab regardless.
  • Vaccine supporters: Respondents who did not agree with the aforementioned statement and are certain to get the COVID-19 jab or had already done so.
  • Uncertain respondents: this relatively heterogenous groups does not a definite group on vaccines in general and are divided on their views on taking the COVID-19 jab.

The discrepancy across countries in terms of explicit “anti-vaxxers” in their population is rather large: 14% of Poles belong here, but only 4% of Hungarians. The proportion of “vaccine supporters” is by far the lowest in Czechia (only 18%), the proportion of them in Poland is almost twice that, while every second person in Slovakia and Hungary can be counted among their ranks. Regardless, Czechs are not especially against vaccinations, neither generally, nor in the case of COVID-19 jabs. However, it is notable that almost twice as many Czechs are uncertain as in any other V4 country, so they are the least likely to have a definite view on vaccinations.

Proportion of various vaccination groups within the V4

In %

Demographic characteristics of individual groups

The proportion of “anti-vaxxers” is considerably lower among older respondents than among the youth and middle-aged individuals. While 12-13% of under-45s are extremely rejective and critical of vaccines, the proportion of them is only 6-7% among over-55s. Naturally, 6-7% is still significant considering that it is the age group most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The share of “COVID vaccine skeptics” falls with age even more visibly. Almost a quarter of people between 18 and 24 years of age can be categorized in this group, while less than one-tenth of over-65s are in it. The situation is the other way around among “general vaccine skeptics.” 10% of over-55s can be categorized in this group, while only 5-6% of younger age groups are in this category. The proportion of “vaccine supporters” is relatively even across age groups, although the values are slightly higher in older age groups than among the youngest.

Educational attainment is significant mainly in the “anti-vaxxer” and “general vaccine skeptics” groups. Respondents with a lower level of education are overrepresented in both categories. However, university education does not necessarily define clearly how people think about vaccinations either. 5% of respondents with a university degree belong in the “anti-vaxxers” group and 4% are in the “general vaccine skeptics” category. Individuals with university degrees are overrepresented in the “vaccine supporters” group; every second one of them belongs in this category, while the next group with the highest representation here is that of people with school-leaving certificates (39%). However, there are essentially no differences between the proportions of the four educational attainment groups within the “COVID vaccine skeptics” group.

Conspiratorial mentality

One key points of our study was measuring vulnerability to conspiracy theories and its relationship with views on vaccines. We asked seven relevant questions; two about general theories and five concerning the coronavirus.[ii] There were considerable differences between vaccine skeptic groups in the case of both types of conspiracy theories. It is unsurprising that “anti-vaxxers” are the most likely to believe both in general and COVID-specific narratives, followed by “general vaccine skeptics.” The latter group’s members are open to vaccinating themselves against COVID-19 but also more likely to believe in the myths surrounding the pandemic. In contrast, “COVID vaccine skeptics” are less likely to be conspiracy theorists; their rejection of the coronavirus jabs can only be explained partly by belief in myths. The “vaccine supporters” group – once again, as expected – is much more likely to reject any type of conspiracy theories.

Vulnerability to general and COVID-related conspiracy theories in various vaccination groups.

The higher value indicates a higher vulnerability, zero indicates the average of the entire sample

Fears about vaccines

In the two charts below, we introduce the most prevalent fears about COVID-19 vaccines. Poles and Slovaks are the most worried about side effects and they are the most concerned about safety, too. Respondents in Hungary show a high degree of uncertainty: Hungarians were the most likely to select the neutral, “both agree and disagree” option.

Side-effects could be too serious

In %

COVID-19 vaccines were developed, tested and authorized too quickly to be safe

Proportions in %.

Results show that these fears are the most prevalent among “anti-vaxxers.” In contrast to results concerning conspiracy theories, fears among “COVID vaccine skeptics” are stronger than among “general vaccine skeptics.” Thus, fears and concerns regarding vaccines have a stronger effect on the refusal of inoculation than theories related to it.

We tried to measure vaccine awareness with our remaining two questions.[iii] “Vaccine supporters” were the most aware, they are the most likely to think that the pandemic can only be overcome via inoculation. “General vaccine skeptics” had above-average awareness as well. This indicates that while they are skeptical about vaccines in general, they do not deny the importance of COVID-19 jabs. This is in line with the fact that they are willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine despite their reservations. “COVID vaccine skeptics” and “anti-vaxxers” are on the other side of the awareness scale, relatively far from the average.

The prevalence of fears concerning COVID vaccines and that of vaccine awareness among various vaccination groups

A higher value indicates a higher level of fear and awareness, the zero value indicates the average of the sample.

Methodology

The FOCUS Agency conducted a public opinion poll via phone (CATI). The poll was commissioned by Political Capital. The agency asked 1,000 people in each of the four countries. The respondents represent the given country’s population well in terms of gender, age, type of settlement and region, and educational attainment. The maximum margin of error is 3.1%.

The date of data collection was 1-10 March in Czechia, 1-5 March in Poland, 2-8 March in Hungary and 1-10 March in Slovakia.

We created factors using principal component analyses from the questions used in the polls. We are displaying factor scores from vaccination groups in the charts. Zero indicates the average for the entire sample.

When merging the samples of the four countries, we did not weight individual samples for population size. Thus, neither of the countries are under- or overrepresented, none of the countries’ views are dominant.

Notes

[i] The five answer options were: (1) Strongly disagree. (2) Tend to disagree. (3) Neither agree nor disagree. (4) Tend to agree. (5) Strongly agree

[ii] The two general ones were: (1) Technological companies are deliberately withholding the cheaper, more modern technologies from the market. (2) Pharmaceutical firms are keeping the cures for illnesses secret. The five COVID-related ones were: (1) A lot of information about Coronavirus is deliberately held back from the public. (2) Coronavirus was created and spread by the CIA. (3) The implementation of 5G technology is a means of deliberately spreading Coronavirus. (4) Coronavirus was purposefully created in, and released from, a biochemistry lab in Wuhan, China. (5) The coronavirus is a result of the secret plan implemented by the global elites In all five cases we measured the degree of approval on a scale of 1 to 5.  

[iii] The two statements were: (1) COVID-19 vaccine is the only way to end coronavirus. (2) COVID-19 vaccination should be compulsory. As in the case of conspiracy theories, we measured agreement with the statements on a scale of 1 to 5.

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