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18 February 2021

Trust in lockdown sceptics linked to arguments about Covid vaccine

Conflict with family or friends about getting vaccinated is much more likely among those who trust prominent sceptics


Coronavirus: who the public trust on the pandemic

Read the research

People who trust prominent lockdown sceptics on coronavirus and the response to the pandemic are much more likely to have been involved in disputes about getting vaccinated against the virus, according to a new study.


One in 11 people (9%) say they trust David Icke on the pandemic, and researchers from the University of Bristol and King’s College London found that, among this group, 35% report arguing with friends or family about getting a coronavirus vaccine – three and a half times higher than the 10% of the population overall who say the same.


Those who trust Icke are also more than five times as likely to say they’re no longer speaking to a loved one because of disagreements about getting vaccinated (28% vs 5%).


The same pattern is seen, albeit to a lesser extent, with other high-profile commentators who doubt the necessity of lockdowns, such as Laurence Fox, Nigel Farage and Denise Welch. For example, 22% of those who trust Laurence Fox on coronavirus have had arguments about the vaccine, and 19% say they’re not on speaking terms with a friend or family because of such disagreements.


The research is based on a survey of 4,860 UK adults aged 18-75 between 21 November and 22 December 2020.


The study also looked at how levels of vaccine hesitancy vary depending on which public figures people trust on coronavirus, as well as by how much people trust the UK government and various professions.


How vaccine hesitancy varies depending on which public figures people trust


Trust in certain lockdown sceptics is associated with some forms of vaccine hesitancy.


Half (52%) of those who trust David Icke on the pandemic say that opposition to vaccines in general is very or fairly likely to persuade them not to get vaccinated against coronavirus, as do significant minorities of people who trust other lockdown sceptics such as Denise Welch (40%), Laurence Fox (33%) and Nigel Farage (31%). By contrast, 15% of the population overall say opposition to vaccines could deter them.


And 40% of those who trust Icke say they’re certain or very likely to get a coronavirus vaccine – much lower than the 68% of people who trust Keir Starmer and Patrick Vallance and say the same.


How vaccine hesitancy varies depending on trust in government and various professions


Trust in the UK government is linked with a greater likelihood of getting vaccinated. Among those who say they trust the information provided by the UK government on coronavirus a great deal, 74% report being certain or very likely to get a vaccine against coronavirus – compared with 36% of those who say they have no trust at all in government information.

Which professions people trust more generally is also associated with different vaccine intentions. The minorities of the population who say they don’t trust otherwise well-regarded groups have high levels of vaccine hesitancy.

For example, 7% of the public say they do not trust doctors and nurses – and this group are less than half as likely as the population overall to say they’re certain or very likely to get a coronavirus vaccine (21% vs 54%).


Dr Siobhan McAndrew, senior lecturer in quantitative social science at the University of Bristol, said:


“Trusting prominent lockdown sceptics is associated with greater conflict with loved ones over getting a coronavirus vaccine, as well as general hesitancy about being immunised. This suggests a risk of disruption to the social connections which protect wellbeing during the pandemic.”


Dr Daniel Allington, senior lecturer in social and cultural artificial intelligence at King’s College London, said:


“Those who trust the Prime Minister and the Chief Medical Officer are looking forward to getting vaccinated, and so are those who trust the Leader of the Opposition. But for the vaccination campaign to succeed, the health authorities will also have to reach out to those who have little trust in medicine or politics – and that is a major challenge.”


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


“Trust is essential in a public health crisis – and the very good news is that large majorities of the public are placing their trust in both experts and politicians who are following expert advice. However, given the very high level of compliance with lockdown restrictions needed to contain the virus and the high vaccine take-up required to get back to a more normal life, we can’t afford to be complacent about the minorities who are sceptical about the rules or getting vaccinated.”

Technical details
Ipsos MORI interviewed a sample of 4,860 adults aged 18-75 in the United Kingdom between 21 November and 22 December 2020. Data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender and working status, government office region, , social grade and education. All polls are subject to a wide range of potential sources of error.