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01 June 2022

Covid misperceptions persist in UK and Europe

One in seven people in the UK still say they don’t believe the scientific consensus on vaccine safety

Covid misperceptions

PERITIA: Public attitudes towards the Covid-19 pandemic

Read the research

Notable minorities of the public in the UK and other European nations still hold misperceptions related to Covid-19, according to a new study.

Carried out by the Policy Institute at King’s College London as part of a European Commission project investigating public trust in expertise, the research is based on survey data from over 12,000 people across six countries. It finds:

  • One in seven (15%) people in the UK still say they don’t believe that nearly all scientists agree vaccines are safe – although three-quarters (74%) recognise this is true, higher than the average across the nations surveyed (69%). Those aged 55 and above in the UK (86%) are more likely than those in younger age groups (67%) to believe in the scientific consensus on vaccines.
  • A third (33%) of the UK public think the government is exaggerating the number of deaths from coronavirus, but a majority (54%) say this is false. In Poland, where this belief is most widespread, 43% think the government is inflating Covid deaths, while at the other end of the spectrum 24% believe this in Norway.
  • One in six (17%) UK adults say it’s true that the symptoms that most people blame on coronavirus appear to be linked to 5G network radiation. This rises to one in four (26%) among those aged 18 to 34. But overall in the UK, seven in 10 people (70%) think this claim is false – exactly the same as the average across the nations surveyed.

The six countries included in the study – the UK, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway and Poland – were selected to reflect a range of different contexts across factors such as location within Europe, population size, GDP levels, political structure and levels of trust in institutions, as measured in other studies.

There are still high levels of concern about the impacts of the Covid crisis

The research also looked at people’s concerns about the effects of the pandemic, finding that two-thirds (67%) of people in the UK say they are worried about the impacts for future generations.

This concern crosses age divides, with the oldest surveyed (67%) just as likely as the youngest (66%) to say they are worried about the effects on subsequent generations.

And across the other nations surveyed, high levels of concern remain about the legacy of coronavirus, ranging from 53% of people in Norway who are worried about its generational impacts, to 77% of those in Italy.

In fact, out of the six countries included in the study, people in Norway emerge as the least concerned about the pandemic’s impacts on a range of measures. For example, 49% say they are worried about the impact of Covid crisis for them personally, compared with an average of 67% across the nations surveyed. And 66% of the Norwegian public are worried about the impacts of the pandemic for humanity in general – notably lower the 80% country average.

The findings from this research were produced as part of PERITIA, an EU-funded project that aims to help citizens and policymakers understand trust in science and identify trustworthy expertise.

Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, said:

“Despite the pandemic lasting much longer than many anticipated, this has not been enough time to convince everyone of certain established facts about Covid-19 and the response to the virus. Across both the UK and other European countries included in this study, there is a stubborn minority who still question not only the scientific consensus on vaccine safety but also government reporting of Covid deaths, while around one in six still believe the debunked conspiracy theory of a link between 5G and coronavirus. Building trust in expertise, so that people are able to recognise and accept reliable information, is crucial during a public health crisis and should be a priority for policymakers and scientists if we’re to better deal with the threats of the future.”

Survey details
This survey was conducted drawing on the proprietary online panel of Savanta in the UK and similar panels in their network in the other countries. Quotas were set to ensure sufficient responses within each country in terms of age, gender, region, education, and income. Once data collection was complete, weights were applied to observations to create a sample reflective of the population in age, gender, region, education, and income. Sample sizes were: 2,017 in Germany; 2,030 in Ireland; 2,044 in Italy; 2,045 in Norway; 2,168 in Poland; and 2,042 in the UK. Data were collected directly from respondents via a self-completed online survey. Fieldwork dates ranged from 4th-19th January 2022.

The PERITIA project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 870883.

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