Not All Vaccine-Sceptics Are Anti-Vaxxers
The rejection of COVID-19 vaccines and general scepticism against inoculation are not necessarily connected to each other, revealed in a Visegrad Group countries poll commissioned by the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital.
- Some individuals believe vaccines, in general, have more disadvantages than benefits and, yet, they see vaccines as an effective solution against the current problem, i.e. the coronavirus pandemic.
- There are even more respondents who reject COVID-19 vaccines even though they are generally supportive of inoculation.
It is clear that no unbiased, calm dialogue has been possible between people with different views on vaccination ever since the pandemic became a part of our lives. Anybody who raised concerns about the jabs was immediately labelled as an ‘anti-vaxxer’ or ‘conspiracy theorist’, while those who do reject vaccination refused to listen to any rational argument that may challenge their convictions.
Our poll helps us better understand the reasons behind sceptical attitudes, revealing people’s main fears and motives (see endnote (1) for methodology). This could mark the first step towards more balanced dialogue, which might help increase vaccine popularity.
The five vaccination groups
When assessing results, we combined the data from all V4 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.” (from agree to disagree on a scale of five) Then, we added respondents’ willingness to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19 to the equation. Based on the results, we categorised 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 sceptics: Respondents who agreed with the statement on vaccines but would get the COVID-19 jab or had already done so.
- COVID-19 vaccine sceptics: 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 heterogeneous group does not fit a definite category 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 relatively large: 14 per cent of Poles belong here, but only four per cent of Hungarians. The proportion of ‘vaccine supporters’ is by far the lowest in Czechia (only 18 per cent), 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 strongly 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.
The proportion of various vaccination groups within the V4
In per cent
One of the key aims 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. (2)
There were considerable differences between vaccine sceptic 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-19-specific narratives, followed by ‘general vaccine sceptics’.
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-19 vaccine sceptics’ are less likely to be conspiracy theorists; their rejection of the coronavirus jabs can only be explained partly by belief in myths.
Vulnerability to general and COVID-19-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
It is helpful to distinguish myths from fears. In the two charts below, we introduce the most prevalent fears about COVID-19 vaccines. Poles and Slovaks are the most worried about the jabs’ 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 per cent
COVID-19 vaccines were developed, tested and authorised too quickly to be safe
Proportions in per cent
In contrast to results concerning conspiracy theories, fears among ‘COVID-19 vaccine sceptics’ are stronger than among ‘general vaccine sceptics’. 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. (3) ‘Vaccine supporters’ were the most aware; they are the most likely to think that the pandemic can only be overcome via inoculation.
‘General vaccine sceptics’ had above-average awareness as well. This indicates that while they are sceptical 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-19 vaccine sceptics’ and ‘anti-vaxxers’ are on the other side of the awareness scale, relatively far from the average.
The prevalence of fears concerning COVID-19 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
With our improved understanding of the motivations behind the attitudes on COVID-19 vaccines, we would recommend refraining from judging vaccine sceptics.
It is better to ask first about the reasons behind the other side’s opinion because the arguments that might work for those who have fears about the side effects might not work on those who have seemingly more irrational fears.
The poll results help journalists, health organisations, politicians target their messages more precisely. Moreover, they can convince these groups to switch to a different mindset on vaccine scepticism: understanding that not all vaccine-sceptics believe in conspiracy theories could steer public discussions towards a calmer and more fact-based debate, which might lead to an increase in the popularity of inoculation.
Róbert László - Csaba Molnár
(1) Methodology: The FOCUS Agency conducted a public opinion poll via phone (CATI). Political Capital commissioned the poll. 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 data collection date 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 weigh individual samples for population size. Thus, neither of the countries are under- or overrepresented, none of the countries’ views is dominant.
(2) 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-19-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.
(3) 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.
The article was originally published by Visegrad Insight.