More than supporters and opponents: Stances towards COVID-19 vaccines from October 2020


Vaccine uptake is critical to managing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, an important part of the population in some countries are hesitant to get vaccinated.

Nevertheless, both policymakers and the public have high hopes for COVID-19 vaccination. Based on qualitative interviews conducted in October 2020, this study explores people's anticipated expectations, hopes, and fears about COVID-19 vaccination in seven European countries: Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, German-speaking Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. 

We find that stances towards COVID-19 vaccines are shaped by people's own experiences with previous vaccinations. Five positions became apparent: (1) acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines due to general acceptance of vaccines; (2) acceptance of COVID-19 vaccines despite general rejection of vaccines (e.g. to help society as a whole get out of the pandemic more quickly); (3) rejection of COVID-19 vaccines despite general acceptance of vaccines (e.g., because of the rapid development and approval process); (4) rejection of COVID-19 vaccines because of general rejection of vaccines. A fifth group of participants was still unsure about their stance on COVID-19 vaccines.

Participants associated a lot of hope, but also fear, with COVID-19 vaccines, which were not yet approved at the time. Many expressed the hope that the vaccines would soon bring the pandemic to an end and that the restrictions could be lifted. Participants also frequently referred to their desire  to protect themselves and their immediate environment from infection. On the other hand, participants expressed concerns about side effects, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. These concerns about individual risks were often in stark contrast to collective benefits, leading to internal conflict among some participants.

Our findings underscore the importance of considering how people personally perceive vaccination in their particular social and political context. Classifying people as "pro-vaccine" and "anti-vaccine" is too simplistic. Rather, available information, past experiences, COVID-19 health risk perception for oneself and close ones, as well as trust in institutions represent individual factors that influence the evaluation of COVID-19 vaccines in interaction with the social environment.

This study is published in a scientific journal:

Paul KT, Zimmermann BM, Corsico P, Fiske A, Geiger S, Johnson S,  Kuiper JML, Lievevrouw E, Marelli L, Prainsack B, Spahl W, Van Hoyweghen I. Anticipating hopes, fears and expectations towards COVID-19 vaccines: A qualitative interview study in seven European countries. SSM Qual Res Health 2022; 2:100035.



Picture by Michael Marais (