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Global Public Opinion as COVID-19 Vaccine Offers Hope

Running Numbers by Craig Kafura Brendan Helm Renee Perper
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
a medical professional prepares a vaccine syringe

A global survey shows the public perceives COVID-19 as the world's greatest health threat and nearly two-thirds of respondents believe the vaccine should be compulsory.

This week the world passed the 68.3 million case mark, with over 1.5 million deaths attributed to COVID-19. As the Pfizer vaccine saw its first emergency authorization in Britain, the world has now shifted its focus to approving and deploying the vaccine to stem the spread of COVID-19. A global health survey conducted in 27 countries by Ipsos found that by a wide margin, COVID-19 is perceived to be the largest health problem, and nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) believe that vaccination should be compulsory.

The Council survey team is providing updates every other week on public opinion around the world on the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, the Chicago Council Survey team’s update includes polling results from the United States, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Canada.

Key findings

  • Three-quarters of Americans (75%) are confident that the vaccine development process will produce a safe and effective vaccine, and a growing proportion (60%, up from 51%) say they would get a vaccine if it was available.
  • Three in four Japanese (75%) say that people should not travel for the New Year’s holiday, and most want to suspend (57%) or cancel outright (20%) the GoTo Travel program supporting domestic tourism.
  • While over three-quarters (79%) of French people are in favor of the progressive easing of the second national lockdown, just 55 percent agree that health authorities learned lessons from the first lockdown.
  • Despite the national lockdown, a majority of Britons (72%) feel disappointed by the number of people they have seen not following the recommended measures in public places.
  • Although Italy’s cases have begun to fall following the implementation of a rigorous system of restrictions, 72 percent of Italians believe the rate of infections will grow.
  • Despite the continued lockdown in Canada, 10 percent of Canadians have said that they will be visiting friends or family in another community or out of province.

The United States

15.2+ million cases, 286,443 deaths

Somehow, things seem to be getting worse. Pew polling from late November finds that seven in ten Americans (71%) believe the worst of the outbreak is still to come. Half (53%) are either very (23%) or somewhat (30%) worried that they will get COVID-19 and require hospitalization. And a majority of Americans (54%) now know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the pandemic.

With the disease spreading uncontrolled throughout much of the United States, many are now looking to vaccine distribution to begin blunting the toll of the pandemic. New vaccines developed by companies like Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca have finished Phase 3 trials and are currently awaiting emergency approval by health regulators. In the United States, up to forty million doses of vaccine are prepared to ship by the end of the year, pending FDA approval.

But will Americans want a vaccine? Today, vaccinologists are more upbeat about public vaccine consumption, anticipating high public demand. And even before a vaccine is released, the demand is certainly rising. More Americans today (60%) than in September (51%) say they would get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 if it were available, and with vaccines on the immediate horizon, these questions are set to move from the hypotheticals to reality. Helping along that rise in support for vaccination is a similar growth in public confidence about a vaccine. Today, three in four Americans (75%) have confidence that the R&D process will produce a safe and effective vaccine, up from 65 percent in September.

However, even with forty million doses on the line by the end of the year, most Americans won’t be able to get a vaccine immediately. With health officials prioritizing health workers, residents of nursing homes, and older Americans more at risk from COVID-19, it could take months for everyone who wants a vaccine to get one. Count this pollster as one of millions of Americans ready to wait in line when it's available.

Until vaccines are widely available, the next best thing remains a simple face mask. And most Americans are fans: 87 percent say they have worn a mask all or most of the time over the past month when in stores or businesses. Indeed, three-quarters of Americans (73%) say it bothers them when people around them in public places do not wear masks, and a similar proportion (72%) are not bothered by stores and businesses requiring customers to wear masks.

Japan

164,889 cases, 2,426 deaths

On Friday, Tokyo confirmed a new single-day record of Coronavirus cases (584). Asahikawa, the second-largest city in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, has requested a dispatch of nursing personnel from the Self-Defense Forces amid a series of cluster outbreaks in the city.

The rising coronavirus concerns may spell an early end to the high popularity of Japanese Prime Minister Suga. Kyodo polling conducted December 5-6 finds Suga’s approval dropping sharply, down 13 points over the past month to a bare 50 percent. Similarly, a majority of Japanese express disapproval of the government’s response to the coronavirus (56%). And when forced to choose, three-quarters (76%) also favor prioritizing efforts to contain the pandemic over economic concerns.

Yomiuri polling conducted December 6-8 doesn’t find quite as large a drop in support for the Suga cabinet, though their finding of 61 percent represents an eight-point decline from November results. It also finds more Japanese disapproving (49%) than approving (42%) of the government’s COVID response.

The rising case numbers and public concern are leading to public pressures against travel. One target is the GoTo Travel program, designed to encourage domestic tourism at a time when Japan’s borders remain closed to foreign tourists. A majority of Japanese (57%) today say the GoTo Travel program should be suspended, and an additional two in ten (20%) favor ending the program entirely.

Limited travel extends to the holidays as well. Three in four Japanese (75%) say that people should not travel for the New Year’s holiday, meaning many will skip the traditional visits home to see relatives. And humans aren’t the only ones suffering from the pandemic. The namahage, a demon traditionally seen around New Year’s in Oga city and recognized by UNESCO as a piece of Japan’s intangible cultural heritage, are being asked to stay home to prevent the spread of COVID. Local leaders expect them to return next year in full force.

In addition to the New Year’s Holiday, many people are looking forward to the coming deployment of coronavirus vaccines, with the government aiming to vaccinate the population in the first half of 2021 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The vaccine, once approved, should meet a warm welcome: most Japanese (83%) want to get a vaccine once it is available, with 15 percent wanting one immediately and seven in ten (69%) in less of a rush.

France

2.3+ million cases, 56,352 deaths

France’s second lockdown has proved effective, and the rate of new cases has fallen back to levels seen in late September and early October – though still higher than the lull in cases that they saw in the Summer. Given the diminished rate of cases, President Macron announced on November 25 that the progressive easing of the lockdown would begin on November 28, with outings authorized up to 20 kilometers away from a French person’s home. Additional permissions will be rolled out on December 15—when cinemas, theaters, and museums will reopen—and tentatively on January 20, if cases fall below 5,000 per day, gyms and restaurants will reopen and the curfew will be shifted.

In general, a November 25 Elabe survey reveals that a majority of French (79%) people are in favor of the progressive easing of restrictions announced by Emmanuel Macron. Among the details, however, it is clear that the French people have qualms with specific facets of Macron’s plan. In particular, majorities of French people oppose the continued system of certificates for movement around their region (52%) and the continued closure of bars and restaurants (61%). However, asked whether Macron, the government, and the health authorities learned lessons from the first lockdown in regard to their management of the pandemic, French people are split with just over half (55%) saying ‘yes,’ and 45 percent saying ‘no.’

Meanwhile, shortly after the French Parliament passed Article 24—a controversial bill which would expand the powers of the police while also banning French citizens from publishing images of active police officers—a video emerged showing a popular Black French music producer being beaten by the police. Since then, large protests have erupted to challenge the bill, and French lawmakers have vowed to rewrite the bill. However, according to the results of a December 1-2 Elabe survey, the broader French population is not so concerned about police violence and their expanded powers. Asked about police violence, nearly two-thirds (64%) say that it is marginal and the result of a minority of police who act alone. At the same time, half of French people (49%) express opposition to the statutes of Article 24. Regarding the protests against police violence, the French are split with 41 percent expressing sympathy and support for the demonstrations while 40 percent express hostility and opposition towards them.

The United Kingdom

1.7+ million cases, 62,033 deaths

On December 2, the United Kingdom was the first country to grant emergency authorization to the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech, and on December 8, the first Briton received the vaccine. By the end of the month, four million more doses are expected to be distributed to the elderly and frontline healthcare workers. In the background of this historic milestone, the United Kingdom’s second lockdown has been decently successful, with cases dropping substantially after its November 5 implementation. Nonetheless, cases remain significantly higher than the first peak in April, and the lower plateau during the Summer months.

The heightened level of cases, even after the lockdown, may be a result of lax adhesion to the restrictions by people in the United Kingdom. A survey which was conducted by King's College London one to two weeks before the end of the lockdown (November 20-24) found that nearly three-quarters (72%) of Britons express that they feel disappointed by the number of people they have seen not following the recommended measures in public places. Another third of respondents (32%) report that they have felt embarrassed by someone they know not following the recommended measures in public. However, 57 percent of British respondents say that they have not very much trust (36%) and no trust at all (21%) in the government to control the spread of the virus.

Italy

1.7+ million cases, 61,240 deaths

Italian citizens can breathe a short sigh of relief this week. Coronavirus cases, which had spiked this November, began to drop after Italy’s extensive three-tier plan went into effect on November 10th. Nonetheless, on December 3, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed an emergency decree to extend the three-tier system from December 4-January 15. The renewed measures aim to prevent super-spreading events around the holiday season. From December 21st-January 6th, the measure requires all travelers, even from other EU countries, to quarantine. The measure also bans non-essential travel between towns specifically on key holidays (December 25, 26, and January 1).

In part, it appears that PM Conte’s moves reflect a deep divide with how Italians plan to approach holidays in a pandemic. According to an IPSOS poll taken on November 26, 25 percent of Italians surveyed indicated they would not hold any Christmas lunch or dinner celebrations while 20 percent of Italians suggested that their table would be more crowded than ever. Yet most Italians believe the holiday comes with significant risk; 75 percent agree that the gatherings represent a danger.

At the same time, the IPSOS poll indicates that Italians feel generally wary about the future of the pandemic. 72 percent of Italians surveyed believe that the probably is high that the infection rate will grow while only 18 percent believe that the rate will remain low. Moreover, 33 percent of those surveyed suggested that they feel the worst is yet to come, which is an 11 point drop from IPSOS’ November 4 survey. Overall, this seems to indicate that Italians remain highly cautious of the virus, despite a major decline in cases.

Moreover, this caution appears to reflect in higher concern for the health risks of the virus. 65 percent of Italians surveyed stated they were concerned about themselves or a family member getting infected, versus 25 percent who stated they were more worried about loss of income, loss of work, or loss of savings. Italians’ focus on health over the economy appears slightly surprising, given that the Italian economy contracted by 12.4 percent between the first and second quarter of this year. According to a November 17 PEW Research poll, 90 percent of adults in Italy said their nation’s economy was doing poorly in the summer. Thus, Italians face a dire dilemma—their economy continues to do poorly, but the battle against the virus rages on. The holiday season will be a new test for Italy; Italians will be challenged to follow strict government regulations in the hope of returning to lower case levels.

Canada

429,035 cases, 12,867 deaths

Many regions of Canada continue to be on lockdown after Canada’s active COVID-19 cases doubled in November. Yet there remains some concern that Canadians are not taking lockdown measures seriously enough, particularly now that the holiday season is in full swing. For instance, a December 7 poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that one in ten Canadians (10%) are still planning to travel outside of their communities this holiday season. This is particularly true for residents of Alberta and Quebec, where one in eight (12%) and one in seven (14%) respective residents plan to travel. According to the same poll, 81 percent of Canadians are concerned about their family and friends becoming sick. To little surprise, the 19 percent who indicated they were not concerned are also twice as likely to travel during the holidays.

Yet there is some hope that Canadians will emulate more responsible behavior this December. A December 3 Abacus poll found that while some Canadians still planned to get together with extended family, these Canadians were in a small minority (8%). More than half of Canadians surveyed (51%), indicated they would not get together with any family outside of their household and most who planned to see family from different households (33%) suggested they would be "extra cautious and safe."

Additionally, there is some good news for smaller, local businesses. On one hand, the Abacus poll found that 81 percent of Canadians say they plan to avoid shopping malls this holiday season and that 56 percent of Canadians plan to shop online. However, 71 percent of Canadians surveyed also indicated that they plan to shop locally. Thus, while the vast majority (84%) of Canadians believe that, in terms of economic damage, the worst is yet to come, the holidays may mean a boost for local businesses.

Another area of hope this holiday season is the potential for a vaccine. According to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada has secured “one of the most diverse” vaccine portfolios in the world. A CNN analysis further indicated that Canada may even have 4 to 5 times the vaccines needed for its 38 million population.

However, the exact timelines of when those vaccines will become available is unclear. But according to a Leger Poll, there is an important caveat to the race for a vaccine. Canada does not have as high of a manufacturing capacity as the United States, the UK, or Germany, meaning that it is difficult to know the exact timeline that vaccines will be readily available. However, according to a Leger Poll, while 37 percent of Canadians are worried that Canada may receive the vaccine later than the UK or the US, nearly half of Canadians (48%) are "not that concerned” and feel that “a few months won’t make much of a difference." Moreover, a November Abacus poll found that 47 percent of Canadians plan to wait to take the vaccine.

About the Authors
Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Council expert Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
Council expert Craig Kafura
Research Assistant
Council expert Brendan Helm
Brendan Helm is a research assistant for the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy and Public Opinion teams at the Council. After earning his undergraduate degree in international relations from the College of William and Mary, he worked at Teaching, Research, and International Policy—a survey project which examined the gap between academia and policymaking.
Council expert Brendan Helm
Renee Perper
Public Opinion Intern
Renee Perper is an intern that works with the public opinion team.