Aussies back vaccine mandate

Three-quarters of Australians would support a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for work, study and travel, new research has found

The first research into public attitudes towards a mandate – a study by the University of Sydney and the University of Western Australia – also highlighted a central political finding: that minor party voters are more likely to be sceptical about the vaccine than major party voters.

The study, published in Politics, coincides with a drop in the uptake of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent weeks and the recalibration of Australia’s vaccine rollout, the researchers note.

“Mandatory vaccination is where vaccination is required if people choose to partake in particular activities or access specific entitlements, as opposed to compulsory vaccination which would require everyone to be vaccinated,” they said.

“We surveyed 1200 Australians, including 898 participants in a panel previously asked in 2017 about vaccines and mandates,” they wrote.

“In all, 66% of respondents indicated they would take a coronavirus vaccine, less than the 88% who in 2017 agreed that vaccines are safe, effective, and necessary.”

The online survey found that 73% of Australians agree that the Government should require a COVID-19 vaccine for work, travel and study.

It also found that:

  • 66% of Australians will take a COVID-19 vaccine voluntarily;
  • 25% of Australians are unsure about taking it; of those 70% expressed safety concerns around the vaccines being developed so quickly;
  • 9% of Australians will not take a COVID-19 vaccine;
  • Voters for major political parties (the Liberal, National and Labor parties) were significantly more likely to say yes to a vaccine than voters for minor parties; and
  • The elderly and more affluent were also more likely to say yes to a vaccine.

Political scientist Associate Professor David Smith from the University of Sydney’s Department of Government and International Relations said it was surprising that more Australians approve of a government mandate for travel, work or study (73%) than would feel comfortable taking the vaccine voluntarily (66%).

“It’s a surprising finding,” said Associate Professor Smith, lead author of the study.

“A lot of people who are hesitant would approve of the government making a vaccine a requirement to go to work or study.

“There would be wide political support for a mandate with some small pockets of opposition based on broader dissatisfaction with government.”

He said the research supports the unusually high acceptance of stricter measures in Australia, such as snap lock-downs, QR codes and curfews.

“You don’t see this acceptance in other countries, especially the US,” said Associate Professor Smith. “The compliance with strict rules is one of the reasons Australia hasn’t suffered as much.”

The study, which was co-authored by Dr Katie Attwell and Dr Uwana Evers from the University of Western Australian, was conducted in June 2020, before the change in advice for the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia.

However the researchers point out that a Roy Morgan study conducted two days after the advice change showed very similar figures, with 69% of Australians still willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“Since we conducted our study, other countries have introduced or announced policies that require vaccination in order to participate in certain activities,” said Dr Attwell.

“A seemingly useful strategy to protect public health has been to require those who are not vaccinated to present very recent negative results of a COVID-19 test.”

Associate Professor Smith said it was likely that there would be widespread – though not universal – support for mandate measures such as vaccine passports, taxes and incentives, denial of access to public or private institutions, border entry or re-entry or forced and unfunded hotel quarantine for travellers.

He also predicted “probably less political contention than we are seeing in the US”.

The study received no funding and data was collected and provided by Pureprofile.

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