06 April 2021

Exclusive research explores students' feelings about Covid-19 vaccine

  • Students believe Covid-19 vaccine necessary for return to normal university life
  • Black students the least likely ethnic group to get the vaccine
  • Majority of students say their mental health has got worse during recent lockdowns
  • Students believe universities should play a role in vaccine programme

New research suggests that university students believe that the return to campuses, in-person teaching, and socialising shouldn't happen until they have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but uptake of the vaccine is still likely to be lowest among black students.

In researched commissioned by the University of East London (UEL) from Savanta ComRes, 60% of students said they should only be able to return to in-person teaching - and 55% supporting the idea that they should only be able to return to shared accommodation - once they are fully vaccinated, with 22% and 28% respectively, opposing this. A majority (57%) also believed they should only be able to meet with others socially, (vs 24% opposing) once they had been fully vaccinated.

However, while overall 70% of students indicated they would be very likely to get the vaccine, definitely would or have already had it - just 13% saying they definitely won't or are not very likely to get it - that figure drops to 59% in the London region, significantly below other UK regions. Black students were the least likely ethnic group to want to get the vaccine, with just 44% indicating they would take it and 29% saying they definitely wouldn't or that it was not very likely.

A clear majority of students (70%) agree that getting the population vaccinated is the only way we can return to life as we know it, and a majority of students (59%) also believed that universities should help with the vaccine roll-out for students and the wider community. Just 5% said that universities shouldn't help with vaccine roll-out and 32% said they should only help with the vaccination of their students.

Some 43% of students said they were more likely to get the Covid-19 vaccine if they were invited to do at their university campus, but 51% said it would make no difference. Half of students polled (50%) agreed that once priority groups in the UK have been vaccinated, those in poorer countries should have access to the vaccine before young and healthy people in the UK, but 22% disagreed with this.

There are still concerns about the vaccine, with 16% believing it is unsafe (the majority 61% disagree with this) and some 40% worried about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Mental health continues to be an issue for students, with 61% saying it had got worse during the recent Covid-19 lockdowns (21% say it had got better and 18% said no change). Physical health had also declined, with 48% saying it got worse during the recent lockdowns - but 25% saying it had got better.

A majority of students felt that their own university had performed well in the handling of the pandemic (55% vs 20% who feel it has performed badly) and 81% of students also believed that the NHS had performed well.

Importance of campus return

Professor Amanda Broderick, vice-chancellor and president at the University of East London said, "Universities can clearly play an important role in helping to deliver the vaccine roll-out and we await approval as a vaccination centre so the University can help to deliver this vital programme for students, staff and the wider community.

"These polling results also demonstrate how important it is for universities to continue to invest in the mental and physical health of our students as we get them back to campus and participating in the full experience of university life, delivering world-class opportunities and education."

Professor Sally Cutler, an expert in medical microbiology who runs the University of East London's Covid-19 testing centre, said, "Nationally, students clearly recognise the importance of vaccination and how vital it is in us returning to anything resembling our former lifestyle.

"Vaccination is key for the protection of students, university staff and our larger communities, and ease of access for vaccination and testing has been highlighted as instrumental in maximising uptake. We hope that this will allow us to continue to grow together towards a better future.

"This builds upon the positive spirit that Covid-19 has created at the University of East London, with staff and students working seamlessly together to deliver an asymptomatic testing service that we hope will evolve towards also helping to roll out vaccinations to our staff, students and local community."

Dr Winston Morgan, reader in toxicology and clinical biochemistry at the University of East London said of the results, "It is really important we do not mistake the caution of black students around taking the vaccine for irrational hesitancy. This response is based on their lived experiences - I call it 'Vaccine Agency' - where black students feel empowered to demand clearer information about safety and efficacy from those offering the vaccine including universities. Once that occurs, black students will take the vaccine."

Survey details

Savanta ComRes surveyed 1,020 UK university students online between 5 and 18 March. Data were weighted by gender, age, region, ethnicity and study type/year to be representative of the UK university population.

Full tables can be viewed here

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