eupinions echo 20 Jan, 2021

Can Europe Gain Herd Immunity Through Vaccination?

Surveys suggest a good rate of overall willingness to get the vaccine but results vary across member states

eupinions echo Can Europe Gain Herd Immunity Through Vaccination?

Every week, surveys from all across the EU tell us what Europeans are thinking, feeling and talking about. In our segment, eupinions echo, we collect these voices and play them back to you. Each week, we highlight one survey of particular interest in a short blogpost and share daily new survey results via our website and our twitter channel.


The new year has brought the start of mass vaccination efforts across all EU member states. This has brought a variety of different challenges with it. While on the EU level enough vaccine doses have to be procured for each member state, the states themselves are challenged with the logistics of distributing those doses among their people, a monumental task given population sizes of countries like Germany or France. However, not every European citizen is also willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine, once available for him or her. And so, member states are faced with another critical challenge: how to ensure enough people in each country get vaccinated so that the Corona virus does not have enough human pathways to further spread in the population. Experts estimate that to achieve such a so-called "herd immunity", between 60-70% of a population would need to be vaccinated against the virus. So, what are the prospects for Europe to achieve those levels of vaccination? To find out, we looked at two recently published surveys, one by the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WIN) and the second by YouGov, exploring the willingness to vaccinate in different European countries and around the world.


A first look at WIN's data set sees Europe in a decent position for achieving overall herd immunity. Across the EU member states surveyed, a total of 64% of Europeans indicated a general willingness to get vaccinated, with 35% of respondents saying they would definitely get vaccinated and another 29% stating they would probably get vaccinated. While these numbers don’t automatically guarantee herd immunity, they might just be enough. However, there is a problem here. The willingness to get vaccinated is not uniform across all European member states and while there are some countries with a very high percentage of their populations willing to get the vaccine, other countries potentially need to do a lot of convincing before they get a large enough share of their population to get the vaccine. Diving deeper into the WIN survey's data, Denmark is home to the largest proportion of people ready to get the shots, with an overall 87% willingness to get vaccinated. On the other hand, France faces a real problem with less than half of its population (44%) indicating any willingness to vaccinate.

This could mean that while some areas of Europe could realistically achieve herd immunity from the Coronavirus in 2021 and consequently begin to open up their societies again, other areas might have to continue to rely on solutions such as lockdowns for much longer to keep the local spread of the virus in check.

These numbers are further corroborated by the findings of the YouGov survey, which similarly see France, together with Poland, at the bottom of European vaccination willingness. Here, only 39% of French respondents and only 28% of Polish people indicated a general willingness to get the Corona virus vaccine. Interestingly, YouGov also compared the overall proportions of people unwilling to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in each country to the relative number of "anti-vaxxer" - people who said that they would not get vaccinated particularly because they were opposed to vaccines in general. Exploring those findings for France, they find that while 48% of the French population stated that they would not be willing to take the vaccine, only 9% of respondents were opposed to vaccines in general. Consequently, it can be assumed that the remaining 37% of people might have particular issues with the COVID-19 vaccines, such as safety concerns about their comparatively quick development process. This is actually good news for France, as it indicates that there is a significant proportion of the French population that, while currently still unwilling to get a COVID-19 vaccine, might still be convinced of the vaccine with enough reassurance by the government and after seeing its success and safety with other people and populations. As so often, it is a matter of generating trust in society. Having said that, a recent Pew Research Center survey in the US has shown that Americans’ willingness to get vaccinated against Covid-19 has risen from 51% in September to 60% in December 2020. In other words, many people still appear to be on the fence regarding their willingness to get the shot, willing to change their mind with time and changing circumstances. It may be that, when presented with the actual and not just hypothetical opportunity to get the shot, the number of people going for it may turn out to be higher than anticipated.

So, while surveys currently might suggest that a comprehensive herd immunity across all EU member states will be very difficult to achieve, these numbers are by no means set in stone. It is therefore up to the local governments and people in each country to do their best to convince their populations and incentivise them to get the vaccine as soon as they have the option to do so. Then, if everybody works together on this, we might have a real shot at normalcy within the year.





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The WIN survey was carried out between October 21st to December 15th 2020. A total of 26,758 respondents were questioned across 32 countries. For the YouGov survey, a minimum of 1,000 respondents per country were surveyed from 24 countries globally between the 17th of November 2020 and 10th of January 2021.