Australians support mandatory COVID-19 vaccine: survey

Australians would support a government vaccine mandate. Photo: Flickr

Australians would support a government vaccine mandate. Photo: Flickr

Three-quarters of Australians would support a government requirement to be vaccinated in order to work, travel or study. This number is higher than the number of Australians who would agree to the vaccine voluntarily, a survey has found.

A study by The University of Sydney and The University of Western Australia has found three-quarters of Australians would support a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for work, study and travel. It’s the first data on public attitudes towards a mandate.

  • 73 percent of Australians agree the gov should require a COVID-19 vaccine for work, travel and study

  • Voters for major political parties were more likely to say yes to a vaccine than minor party voters

  • Gov mandate measures could include vaccine passports, taxes and incentives, forced and unfunded hotel quarantine for travellers

The central political finding is that minor party voters are more sceptical about the vaccine than major party voters.

Mandatory vaccination is where vaccination is required if people choose to partake in particular activities or access specific entitlements, as opposed to compulsory vaccination which would require everyone to be vaccinated.

The study, published in Politics, coincides with a decline in the uptake of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent weeks and the reset of the vaccine rollout in Australia.

The online survey of 1200 Australians found:

  • 73 percent of Australians agree the government should require a COVID-19 vaccine for work, travel and study
  • 66 percent of Australians will take a COVID-19 vaccine voluntarily
  • 25 percent of Australians are unsure about taking it; of those 70 percent expressed safety concerns around the vaccines being developed so quickly
  • 9 percent of Australians will not take a COVID-19 vaccine
  • Voters for major political parties (the Liberal, National and Labor parties) were significantly more likely to say yes to a vaccine than voters for minor parties
  • The elderly and more affluent were also more likely to say yes to a vaccine

Political scientist Associate Professor David Smith  from the University of Sydney’s  Department of Government and International Relations   Associate is an expert in politics and public opinion.

He said it was surprising that more Australians approve of a government mandate for travel, work or study (73 percent) than would feel comfortable taking the vaccine voluntarily (66 percent).

"It’s a surprising finding," said Associate Professor Smith, who is the lead author of the study.

A lot of people who are hesitant would approve of the government making a vaccine a requirement to go to work or study. There would be wide political support for a mandate with some small pockets of opposition based on broader dissatisfaction with government.

He said the research supports the unusually high acceptance of tough measures we have seen in Australia, such as snap lock-downs, QR codes and curfews. "You don’t see this acceptance in other countries, especially the US," said Associate Professor Smith. "The compliance with strict rules is one of the reasons Australia hasn’t suffered as much."

The study, which was co-authored by Dr Katie Attwell and Dr Uwana Evers from the University of Western Australian, was conducted in June 2020, before the change in advice for the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia. However, a Roy Morgan study conducted two days after the advice change showed very similar figures , with 69 percent of Australians still willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine.  Another recent poll confirmed the study’s findings that Australians would support a mandate.

"Since we conducted our study, other countries have introduced or announced policies that require vaccination in order to participate in certain activities," said Dr Attwell. "A seemingly useful strategy to protect public health has been to require those who are not vaccinated to present very recent negative results of a COVID-19 test."

Mandatory vaccinations

Government mandate measures could include vaccine passports, taxes and incentives, denial of access to public or private institutions, border entry or re-entry or forced and unfunded hotel quarantine for travellers as a way of motivating vaccine uptake.

"Our research suggests there will be fairly widespread - though far from universal -acceptance of those measures in Australia, and probably less political contention than we are seeing in the US," said Associate Professor Smith.

Mandatory vaccinations are already an established practice in the childhood setting at both State and Commonwealth levels. The No Jab No Pay and No Jab No Play were both widely accepted by Australians, said Associate Professor Smith.

Vaccine uptake by political preference

Until now, less has been known about how attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccines and mandates link to political preferences. The study found voters for major political parties, the Liberal, National and Labor parties, were significantly more likely to say yes to a vaccine than voters for minor parties, and the elderly and those more affluent were also more likely to say yes to a vaccine.

"It’s clear from the study that there is wide political support for mandatory vaccination, with the exception of some small pockets against it, and these would appear to link to dissatisfaction with the parties that form government," Associate Professor Smith said.

"People seem to understand the risks associated with particular activities, and the potential usefulness of mandates to continue to keep spread rates of COVID in Australia low."

Declaration: No existing academic studies in the Australian or global context have examined population attitudes towards making the COVID-19 vaccination mandatory, nor have they followed the changing attitudes towards vaccination (and mandates) of a panel of respondents before and after the commencement of the pandemic. This research received no funding. The survey data for this project was collected and provided by Pureprofile.

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