Introduction

This document provides a selection of findings from a two wave survey conducted by Ben Ansell (Oxford), Martin W. Bauer (LSE), Jane Gingrich (Oxford), and Jack Stilgoe (UCL) on a representative sample of UK (ex-NI) residents using the polling company YouGov. The first wave took place on September 30th / October 1st 2020 and had 1642 respondents. The second wave surveyed the same group of respondents, receiving 1219 responses from the original 1642 participants (a retention rate of 74%), over the week commencing February 1st 2021.

This project received funding from the John Fell Fund at the University of Oxford (project number 0009190) and was approved by the Oxford’s research ethics committee with approval number R71718/RE001. The experiment in the second wave was pre-registered with EGAP on Jan 31st 2021. Please address correspondence to

Key Take Home Points

  1. Willingness to take the vaccine has increased substantially since October 1st last year - the proportion of people saying they would be ‘very likely’ to take the vaccine has increased from fifty percent to over three quarters. The percentage of people who are ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to take the vaccine has increased from 78% to 87%.

  2. Vaccine Rollout: Around thirteen percent of our sample had already received the vaccine in the first week of February. Our survey is roughly consistent with the vaccine rollout in the UK bearing in mind that YouGov surveys will not reach people in nursing homes and will have limited reach in the over 80s (our oldest respondent is 84).

  3. Vaccine Refusal There is a group of around seven percent of the population who remain ‘very unlikely’ to take the vaccine and this has not shifted greatly. However, a majority of the groups of people who ‘didn’t know’ if they would take the vaccine or were ‘unlikely’ have now moved to ‘very likely’.

  4. Demographics There are no major gender differences any more in desire to take the vaccine, whereas women were substantially more cautious in October. Age remains a strong predictor of willingness to take the vaccine, though the 50-59 group appear to have converged towards their elders. Lower income people remain less likely to be willing to take the vaccine and this gap has if anything widened a little. There is only a weak positive relationship between education and willingness to take the vaccine. People whose education ended at 18 have jumped the most in their willingness (by almost 20 points). Finally, ethnic minorities were much less willing to take the vaccine in October and have moved towards White British (the most positive group) - however, this finding must be caveated by the fact that survey attrition was particularly high for ethnic minorities.

  5. Political factors remain very strong predictors of willingness to take the vaccine. People who voted Remain are consistently (and statistically significantly) about seven points more likely to be willing to take the vaccine than Leave voters or those who didn’t vote in 2016. People who did not vote in 2019 are substantially less likely to want to take the vaccine than those who voted. Among those who voted in 2019, voters for the Brexit Party or the Green Party in 2019 are the most unwilling to take the vaccine (though these are small groups so this is measured with uncertainty). SNP and Liberal voters are most positively inclined. When we ask about current vote intention, supporters of Nigel Farage’s new Reform UK party are strikingly less willing to take the vaccine (only just over 50%). People who don’t know who they will vote for and people intending to vote Green also appear less likely to want to take the vaccine. Every SNP supporter in our sample was willing to take the vaccine.

  6. Vaccine Nationalism does not appear to affect people’s willingness to take the vaccine. In our second wave survey we added a randomized wording of the question about willingness to take the vaccine. There were three arms to the experiment - a control question asking about willingness to take the vaccine, a treatment where the question mentioned that the UK was the first country to approve a vaccine: the US/German made Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and a treatment emphasizing the UK’s role in developing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. We found no appreciable difference in attitudes towards taking the vaccine, whatever the question wording. Accordingly we treat the second wave vaccine question as unaffected by the treatment and directly comparable to the first wave.

  7. Vaccine policy approval: We also asked four vaccine policy and government performance questions after the survey experiment. Again, we found no appreciable differences across question types. We found strong overall approval of the speed with which the regulator approved vaccines (69% approve or strongly approve), the government’s overall performance in rolling out the vaccine (74% approve or strongly approve), and the priority order of vaccination - vaccinating the elderly and health workers before other key workers (78% approve or strongly approve). There is substantially weaker support for the policy of delaying the second dose (just 41% approve or strongly approve).

  8. Vaccine policy group differences: There are no gender differences in policy approval. With age in general older people have higher approval - there is an especially sharp cutoff in attitudes towards the priority order at the age of 50 (the last age group to be covered by the JCVI priority!). Income, education, and ethnicity have little effect on policy approval. Political factors do have more impact. People who voted Leave in 2016 are much more supportive of the government’s vaccine rollout performance and of the policy of delaying the second dose (and more marginally of the priority order). People who voted Conservative in 2019, or who support them now, are unsurprisingly much more supportive of the government’s performance than Labour voters but they are also more supportive of the regulatory approval process, delaying the second dose, and the priority order.

Vaccine Acceptance

In both waves we asked a similar question exploring how likely people would be to take a vaccine against COVID-19. This was a four point question from ‘very unlikely’, to ‘unlikely’, to ‘likely’ to ‘very likely’. We also dichotomised this variable by combining the first two and the last two categories. We refer to this latter measure as ‘binary vaccine’. We permitted people to answer ‘don’t know’.

In the second wave our approach was slightly more complex. Firstly, by this point multiple vaccines had already been made available and so we were able to add an option ‘already taken the vaccine’. In a number of our analyses below we combine those who have already had the vaccine with those who answer “very likely” as the top category in vaccine willingness. Secondly, we implemented a survey experiment when asking the question. The control group (1/3 of the sample, randomly drawn) were asked precisely the same question as in the first wave: " How likely would you be to take a vaccine against COVID-19 if you were offered one?"

There were two randomly selected treatment groups (each 1/3 of the sample) - both receiving prompts aimed at emphasizing ‘vaccine nationalism’ in order to see whether priming respondents to view the UK’s vaccine program positively affected their willingness to take the vaccines.

The first treatment had the following question: “On the 2nd of December last year, Britain became the first country in the world to approve a vaccine against COVID-19 - the BioTech/Pfizer vaccine developed by German scientists and the US pharmaceutical company. How likely would you be to take a vaccine against COVID-19 if you were offered one?”

The second treatment had the following question: “On the 30th of December last year, Britain became the first country in the world to approve the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 - developed by British scientists at the University of Oxford and the British company AstraZeneca. How likely would you be to take a vaccine against COVID-19 if you were offered one?”

As we shall see, the treatments had no measureable effect on the propensity of respondents to claim they were likely to take the vaccine. While this suggests that vaccine nationalism does not have an observable treatment effect - at least in our sample - it does mean that we can compare the first wave results more cleanly with all the second wave respondents (not solely the control group). There were also no measureable differences across sub-groups in the different treatments.

We begin with the first wave results for the question about willingness to take the vaccine, with Don’t Knows (146 out of 1642) removed. We use survey weights to adjust the sample to more accurately reflect the UK population, however we also report the unweighted results.

First Wave (Oct 1st 2020) Attitudes to Taking the Vaccine
 
Likelihood of Taking Vaccine Weighted Unweighted
Very Unlikely 0.12 0.11
Unlikely 0.10 0.10
Likely 0.28 0.28
Very Likely 0.50 0.51


We can see from this table and figure that around in the first wave 77% of respondents who answered this question claimed they would take the vaccine, with almost fifty percent of respondents claiming they were very likely to take it. It is notable that when we weight the survey appropriately the probability of wishing to take the vaccine declines slightly. This potentially reflects the possibility that groups that are hard to reach for surveys may also be more cautious about taking the vaccine.

We now look at the results for the second wave. Because some people have already had the vaccine we merge this group with those who have not had the vaccine but are “Very Likely” to take it. 158 people in our second round of the survey had received the vaccine, out of 1219 who took the survey and 1177 who answered the question. We weight this time by the survey weights given for the second wave. Unweighted and weighted the proportion of people who have had the vaccine is 13.4 percent (here we see that at least in weighting terms, there is minimal difference between those who have had and have not had the vaccine).


Second Wave (Feb 2020) Numbers Who Have Had Vaccine: Including Don't Know
 
Likelihood of Taking Vaccine Weighted Unweighted
Have Had Vaccine 0.13 0.13
Have Not Had Vaccine and Gave Answer 0.83 0.84
Responded Don't Know 0.04 0.03
Second Wave (Feb 2020) Numbers Who Have Had Vaccine: Excluding Don't Know
 
Likelihood of Taking Vaccine Weighted Unweighted
Have Had Vaccine 0.13 0.13
Have Not Had Vaccine and Gave Answer 0.87 0.87


The next set of graphs show the weighted survey averages with the group who have already taken the vaccine included with the “Very Likely” group. We see almost eighty percent of respondents in the second wave are either very likely to take the vaccine or have already had it. Almost 89% of second wave respondents are either “likely”, “very likely” or have had the vaccine.




Second Wave (Feb 2020) Attitudes to Taking the Vaccine: Including Those Already Taken
 
Likelihood of Taking Vaccine Weighted Unweighted
Very Unlikely 0.07 0.05
Unlikely 0.04 0.03
Likely 0.09 0.08
Very Likely 0.80 0.84