Public trust in Covid-19 vaccines fluctuates wildly between countries, major survey shows

Confidence in Oxford-AstraZeneca shot highest in UK while Sinopharm found strongest support among UAE residents

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Trust in coronavirus vaccines fluctuates significantly between countries, a major survey has found, with misinformation and politics among the causes.

A YouGov study of more than 48,000 people found respondents had dramatically contrasting levels of trust in vaccines and the different brands in particular.

Criticism of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from several European leaders, which were subsequently proved to be unfounded, could explain the lower trust in European Union countries compared to the UK, where it was highest.

Dr Andrew Freedman, an infectious diseases specialist at Cardiff University in the UK, said the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab had attracted negative publicity.

There’s a perception that RNA vaccines are superior
Dr Andrew Freedman, Cardiff University

“It’s had a bad press, most of which is unfair,” he said.

“Certainly for some of the [coronavirus] variants the AstraZeneca vaccine has slightly reduced efficacy compared to the RNA vaccines … there’s a perception that RNA vaccines are superior."

He said “no one dreamt” vaccines would be “so effective and developed so quickly”, with those widely available proving efficient in preventing severe disease, hospital admissions and death.

Russia's Sputnik V was given a negative safety rating in 11 countries surveyed, despite being deemed officially safe and effective, even against the Delta variant.

In the UAE, support for Sinopharm – which was credited with driving down cases and saving lives before other vaccines were available – was higher than in any other countries surveyed. Sinopharm continues to be used, though Pfizer-BioNTech doses and booster shots have been rolled out in recent months.

The survey was carried out in 38 countries in June.

Despite public concerns, Prof John Oxford, emeritus professor of virology at Queen Mary University of London, said the results of vaccination campaigns were generally “very pleasing”.

"I’m terribly impressed with the whole bunch of vaccines, all of them – the speed they’ve been produced and delivered, and their effectiveness,” he said.

The survey asked people if they viewed particular vaccines as safe or unsafe and produced a net rating for each brand by subtracting the percentage who regarded it as unsafe from those who considered it safe.

The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine achieved the highest result of any, with a net 79 per cent positive score in Singapore. In the UAE, the vaccine had a net 67 per cent positive rating, while in Saudi Arabia the figure was 61 per cent.

Blood clots and politics

Its lowest score was in Bulgaria, at net 22 per cent positive.

Another important mRNA vaccine from Moderna achieved positive ratings in all countries surveyed.

The main safety issue with mRNA vaccines has been rare cases of inflammation of the heart, known as myocarditis and pericarditis, mostly in male adolescents and young adults.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported that patients typically responded well to treatment and “quickly felt better”.

Three adenoviral vector vaccines, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson (also known as Janssen) and Sputnik V each achieved a net positive safety rating in most countries surveyed.

However, in a number of nations more members of the public perceived them as unsafe than safe.

Among the nine nations where the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab was perceived as unsafe overall, the most extreme result was in Bulgaria, with a net 36 per cent negative result.

By contrast, the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot rated net 62 per cent positive – the highest figure for any of the adenoviral vector vaccines – in the UK, where it was developed.

The shot scored a net 30 per cent negative rating in Denmark, where the authorities paused its distribution along with that of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Rare cases of serious and sometimes fatal blood clots were reported among Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson recipients.

While some nations stopped using these vaccines, others restricted their use to people from particular age groups.

No concerns over blood clotting have been raised with Sputnik V, even though the vaccine is based on similar technology to its rivals, in which a harmless adenovirus delivers coronavirus genetic material into cells, which then produce coronavirus spike proteins.

The Russian-developed Sputnik V was, however, perceived as unsafe more often than the others, with the public in 11 nations giving it a net negative safety rating.

The poll looked at perceptions of the Chinese-developed Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines, as well as India’s Covaxin, although fewer countries were asked for their views.

The Sinopharm drug, a vital part of the UAE’s vaccination programme, achieved its best score, net 63 per cent positive, in the Emirates.

It was seen as safe in 17 of the 18 countries where opinion was sought. Sinovac had a positive score in five of the seven countries where views were canvassed, while Covaxin was regarded as safe by all eight nations surveyed.

Prof Oxford said it might take at least another year to determine if any additional side effects are associated with the Covid-19 vaccines, but he “doubted” this would happen.

“At the moment they look pretty good,” he said.

Updated: August 10, 2021, 10:33 AM