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10 December 2020

How the public and social media users view anti-vaxxers

Most have a negative perception – but a notable minority do not

research lab

Coronavirus: how the UK views vaccines

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The UK public tend to have a negative view of anti-vaxxers, although a notable minority have a favourable perception of people who would refuse a coronavirus vaccine, a new study has found.


A third of Britons (33%) think people who discourage the public from getting vaccinated are selfish, and four in 10 (41%) think they are stupid – compared with 5% who think they are trying to help others and 3% who think they are smart. One in six (17%) go as far as saying they think anti-vax campaigners are bad people.


While the public hold similarly negative views of people who would turn down a coronavirus vaccine, one in eight (13%) say they respect such individuals.


The findings come from new research by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI, based on 2,244 interviews with UK residents aged 16-75, carried out online between 20 and 24 November.


Social media users’ views


Across several measures, those who say they get a great deal or fair amount of information on Covid-19 from social media have a more favourable view of people who discourage the public from getting vaccinated than does the population overall.


For example, 41% nationally think such people are stupid, but this falls to 27% among those who use WhatsApp and 26% who use YouTube as key sources of information on coronavirus.


23% of people who use these two platforms in this way also think anti-vax campaigners are selfish, compared with 33% who think the same across the population as a whole.


Taken together, one in nine (11%) users of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and WhatsApp say they respect anti-vax campaigners – around twice as many as the proportion of the UK public overall who say the same (5%).


And one in five (19%) Facebook and YouTube users say they respect people who would refuse a vaccine – compared with one in eight (13%) among the population as a whole.


Views on different scenarios for a vaccine rollout


59% of people say they’d find it acceptable for parents to choose whether to vaccinate their children against coronavirus or not, compared with 29% who say they’d find it unacceptable.


Men (34%) are more likely than women (23%) to say that giving parents a choice on this issue would be unacceptable.


At the same time, however, 51% of the public say they’d accept parents having to vaccinate their children when the government says they have to, indicating that some people hold inconsistent views on this issue.


Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of the country – 90% – say it’d be acceptable for more vulnerable people to be offered a coronavirus vaccine before them.


Likelihood of getting vaccinated


Finally, the public’s reported likelihood of getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is largely unchanged since July. 54% now say they’d be certain or very likely to get inoculated, compared with 53% back then. One in five (19%) say they’d be fairly likely to, virtually unchanged (20%). And another one in five (20%) say they are unlikely to or definitely won’t – up slightly, from one in six (16%).


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


“Selfish and stupid are the general public’s two most commonly chosen descriptions for people who discourage others from getting the coronavirus vaccine – illustrating how strong emotions are around vaccinations. In contrast, those who are encouraging people to get vaccinated are most likely to be seen to be trying to help others. This balance of opinion reflects the fact that three-quarters of the UK public say they themselves are at least fairly likely to get the vaccine.


“However, there remain one in five who say they are not likely to, or are certain they won’t, get the vaccine. People are much less judgemental about those who say they would not get a vaccine themselves than they are about those who are discouraging others – with the public likely to say they have no strong feelings about those who may not get the vaccine themselves.


“Taken together, this suggests the public make a distinction between people making personal choices on vaccination, and those trying to influence others not to have the vaccine. This is an important message, as we need to engage those who have doubts, not dismiss or denigrate them, while also acting decisively on the spread of misinformation.”


Anna Quigley, Head of Health Research at Ipsos MORI Public Affairs, said:


“If we want to convince people to get the vaccine when they are reluctant, we need to engage with them constructively. This will be challenging, given almost a third of Britons believe that those who refuse a Covid-19 vaccine are stupid. Assertion and arguments from force may only further entrench attitudes of those unwilling to accept a vaccine. This would be hugely detrimental to the health of the population and to our ability to effectively move past this pandemic.”

Technical details
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 2,244 adults aged 16-75 in the United Kingdom using its online i:omnibus between 20 and 24 November 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region, working status, social grade and education. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.

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