Fear of the Coronavirus and Scepticism about Vaccination

(© Image: Adobestock)
(© Image: Adobestock)

Although the individual risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus and falling ill with COVID-19 is currently estimated as being higher than was the case in summer, the willingness to be vaccinated is still not particularly great. In mid-2020, just under 55 percent of the respondents of a representative survey stated that they would probably, or very probably, be vaccinated. However, the willingness to be vaccinated in November/early December was only at 46 percent, despite rising infection rates and the prospect of a vaccine being available shortly. In their second online survey, academics from Heidelberg University surveyed approximately 1,100 people about the measures being taken to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and about their confidence in government, science and the media. The results are available for access on the internet.

The survey - again based on a representative sample - was conducted from 30 November to 11 December. It follows the first survey held in late June/early July involving about 1,300 people in Germany. The two surveys, whose participants were not identical, are part of an interdisciplinary project at the Marsilius Kolleg of Heidelberg University dedicated to the topic "Societal self-empowerment". The project is focusing on the readiness to disregard formal or informal social rules because the people concerned do not feel bound to them for higher, particularly moral reasons. The research on the dimensions, reasons, consequences and measures is being carried out by psychologist Peter Kirsch, lawyer Hanno Kube and political scientist Reimut Zohlnhöfer.

The willingness to contribute to fighting the pandemic by wearing a mask, social distancing and respecting contact restrictions continues to be high. In summer, 82 percent of survey participants stated that they mostly, or always, keep to the coronavirus rules. At present, based on what the interviewees said themselves, the figure is almost the same, at 83 percent. However, satisfaction with the measures has clearly fallen since summer. Only 55 percent are satisfied or very satisfied - compared to 68 percent at the end of June/beginning of July. In turn, dissatisfaction has risen from 23 percent to just under 36 percent. "This seems primarily related to the fact that almost half of the interviewees, just under 44 percent, considered the measures deficient - at least prior to the second lockdown - compared to only around 15 percent of the survey participants in summer," political scientist Reimut Zohlnhöfer reports.

The concern about falling ill has clearly risen. In summer, 67 percent of interviewees - who had not been infected - regarded this as improbable or even very improbable. Currently, just under 49 percent regard the risk of infection as slight. Despite this increase in the subjectively perceived infection risk, the readiness to be vaccinated has substantially fallen while, at the same time, there has been a rise in the number of people whose view of vaccination is fairly, or very, sceptical. While interviewees stating this at the end of June/beginning of July accounted for 24 percent, the figure is now 29 percent. The number of those undecided, running at 24 percent back then, has remained more or less the same, at currently 22 percent.

The researchers see a link here with the tendency to believe in conspiracy theories. While the acceptance of vaccination correlates significantly with trust in state institutions, science and the classical media, as well as satisfaction with coronavirus policy-making to date, rejection is associated with an increased conspiracy mentality. "These findings of our survey certainly do not mean that all vaccination sceptics are supporters of conspiracy theories. Yet it is worrying to see that this connection between a conspiracy mentality and opposition to vaccination has demonstrably increased, along with approval for such ideas in general," says Peter Kirsch, professor for clinical psychology at the Central Institute of Mental Health. "Even if we can’t examine any causal connections here it must still be feared that the willingness to regard conspiracies as possible is spreading more and more in the population due to heated debates in the past months."

In their interdisciplinary research project, the academics also want to analyse ways of promoting people’s readiness to comply with important societal rules. "Our results clearly show how important it is to cultivate and foster confidence in state institutions, science and the media," says Hanno Kube, professor for public law. The researchers will continue to evaluate their data in the coming weeks and months in order to identify starting points for such confidence-building measures.