Feelings of trust shape attitudes to Covid-19 booster vaccination

Olivia Miller
Picture by Unsplash

People’s Covid-19 booster vaccination choices are shaped by their feelings of trust, particularly towards scientists. This is according to research co-authored by Dr Ben Seyd at the University’s School of Politics and International Relations (POLIR) alongside colleagues at the University of Southampton and Michigan State University.

According to surveys of representative samples in the UK and US, only one in five people expressing low trust in scientists report being willing to get a future Covid-19 vaccination immediately, compared to 73% of those expressing high levels of trust in scientists.

However, people’s trust in politicians was less closely related to willingness to get a Covid-19 vaccination in the future. While 73% of people expressing high trust in government ministers said they would get a future vaccination immediately, more than half (54%) expressing low trust in government ministers indicated the same. The study concludes that people’s willingness to get vaccinated against Covid-19 in the future is shaped more by their trust in scientists than by their trust in politicians.

Titled Identifying the trustworthiness of COVID-19 information sources: enhancing information reception across the population, the study was funded by the British Academy, the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences, as part of a research programme investigating Covid-19 vaccine engagement in the US and UK.

While people’s trust in politicians reflects judgements of their benevolence and integrity, these criteria are less important for assessments of the trustworthiness of scientists. Instead, people’s trust in scientists was found to rest more strongly on judgements of their competence and expertise.

The study also identified levels of trust within the population. It found that trust is higher among affluent and more educated individuals; and that ethnic minority groups see friends, family and social media as more useful sources of information, while they are less trusting in local doctors.

In the US, trust in federal government correlates positively with vaccine intention; 70% of people with high trust in the federal government indicate they will get a Covid-19 booster vaccination as soon as it becomes available to them, dropping to 30% among those with low trust in federal government. The difference with the UK on the importance of trust in government for vaccination is likely to reflect the role of party identity in shaping both trust in national government and attitudes to Covid-19 vaccination.

Research into the trustworthiness of information sources can ensure public health communications achieve maximum receptiveness among the population and thus ensure the effective provision of important information during public health emergencies.

Dr Ben Seyd, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Kent and co-author of the study said: ‘There is an assumption that people generally trust public health information, but the strength and depth of this trust varies. Trust is complex and what makes one information source trustworthy in the public’s eye does not do the same for others. Thus, perceived competence appears to be particularly important for people’s trust in scientists, but less so for their trust in politicians where acting for the common good is more important.

‘Everyone needs accurate public health information from sources that they can trust. Allowing ourselves to challenge assumptions about where people place their trust, and why, will help policymakers to make the Covid-19 booster vaccination rollout more effective.’

The full report can be accessed here.