Majority favour Covid vaccination

Flemish are more positive about vaccine than Walloons; half of non-vaccinated people do not want to be vaccinated

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel and VUB spin-off iCense conducted a survey among Belgians to find out people’s reasons for choosing to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or not. The results show that the majority of the population is positive towards the vaccination, that there is a difference according to where people live and their education levels, and that most of those rejecting the vaccination do so out of concern about side effects and because they do not believe the information they are given about the injection.

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen a division in the population. An ingroup and outgroup, which, precisely because of this contradiction, has clung to its belief in its position. Through this study, we understand both groups and what drives them much better," says Timothy Desmet, co-founder of iCense and a member of the VUB research group Marketing and Consumer Behavior.

A representative sample of 1,030 people was used, categorised according to age, gender, region and level of education, and an online survey was carried out that took approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete. The survey ran from 25 June to 6 July 2021, to reach as many people as possible who had received a vaccination invitation. The research maps out all the possible drivers and barriers from the academic literature and specifically focuses on the explanation behind vaccine hesitancy. Linked to this, the study team want to investigate how people can be motivated to get vaccinated despite this resistance.

Majority positive towards vaccine due to health concerns

Most people are positive towards vaccination (87%). This group is mainly convinced that vaccination is the best way to protect their own health and the health of others. 92% of them think vaccination is necessary to guarantee the health of the more vulnerable (e.g. people with other diseases), and 86% think vaccination is "necessary to guarantee health". Reopening the economy and being able to carry out everyday activities again come in second place. In addition, 80% consider vaccination important "to be able to travel again" and 67% "to be able to go to bars or restaurants again".

Whether people have a positive or negative opinion about vaccination seems to depend on the type of media they receive information about Covid-19 from. People with a positive attitude towards vaccination seek more information from traditional media such as radio news (51% vs. 23%) or national TV (58% vs. 27%) than people with a negative attitude.

Vaccinated partly due to social pressure

Of the people who have been vaccinated, 11% are not positive about the vaccination. The main reason is fear of side effects due to lack of research. 37% of this group thinks that "not enough research has been done on Covid-19 vaccines", and 34% think that the "vaccination may cause serious side effects". 30% of vaccinated people are worried by the fact that some countries no longer use the vaccines produced by AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson. People in this group also say they have experienced social pressure to be vaccinated. 31% of the respondents who have been vaccinated say they feel pressured to get vaccinated, and 45% think that "if you don’t get vaccinated, you’ll be looked at unfairly".

According to Professor Malaika Brengman, professor of consumer behaviour at VUB, "it is not surprising that vaccinated people are positive about vaccination despite fears of side effects. People always strive for consistency between their attitudes and their behaviour, and as a result they can be expected to unconsciously adjust their opinion of vaccination in the positive sense after vaccination to be consistent with their behaviour. The campaigns to promote vaccination together with the practical benefits of being vaccinated have probably already persuaded many people to get vaccinated."

Non-vaccinated people cite blood clots and mistrust

The main reason for not getting vaccinated is fear of the side effects of the vaccine. The majority of respondents who do not want to be vaccinated (82%) report that the "vaccination could cause blood clots". The fear of blood clots is widespread; 35% of those who have been vaccinated or want to be vaccinated say they are afraid of blood clots. 70% of women who do not want to be vaccinated think "the vaccine is dangerous for pregnant women (for the foetus)". The fear of side effects is lower among the group of non-vaccinated people who still want to be vaccinated (43%) and among the already vaccinated (13%).

People who do not want to be vaccinated also indicate that they do not trust the figures they hear in the media. 78% say they are "sceptical" about the information given in the media, compared to 48% of people who still intend to be vaccinated and 35% of those who have already been vaccinated.

"It is clear that the cessation of vaccination in some countries has done quite a bit to damage confidence in vaccines and undermine vaccination readiness," said Dr Davide Rigoni, founder of iCense. Prof Brengman adds: "Social judgement theory states that people are more likely to accept confirming information. Contrasting information is more likely to be pushed aside, reinforcing the original attitude, whether positive or negative. It will be a major challenge to break this pattern to maximise vaccination coverage in the population."

Education levels: the higher, the more positive the attitude to vaccination

The overall attitude towards vaccination is related to respondents’ educational levels. Of the group that has not yet been vaccinated, 47% of those with primary or secondary education and 55% of those with a bachelor education do not want to be vaccinated, compared to 30% of those with higher levels of education. 11% of the lower educated have a negative attitude towards vaccination, compared to 7% and 3% of people with an average and higher level of education respectively.

Walloons feel safe faster

There are also regional differences in attitudes. 87% of Flemings are positive towards the vaccination, 78% of Walloons and 77% of people in Brussels. In Wallonia, 56% of people who are not yet vaccinated have no intention of being vaccinated, compared to 40% in Brussels and 30% in Flanders. The regions not only differ in their general attitude towards vaccination, but also have a different perception of safety in relation to the percentage of people who should be vaccinated in total. Most Dutch-speaking respondents will not feel safe until 90% of the population has been vaccinated; most French-speaking respondents say they will feel safe at 80%.

"This finding shows that the expectations about when things can go back to normal are different in the two Belgian regions," says Rigoni. "The Flemish are more cautious and would like almost everyone to be vaccinated before returning to a pre-pandemic life."

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