In a global health crisis, clear and trustworthy communication among institutions, experts and citizens is crucial.
Recent data from Italy, in line with those from several other countries, show that a significant proportion of citizens either do not plan to get vaccinated against Covid-19 (21%), or would rather not be among the first to receive the vaccine (38%)1 2. There are several indications that such attitudes do not result from generalised scepticism about vaccination (held by 4% of Italians, according to empirical studies3) and neither from a generalised distrust in science and scientists, in which trust has been consistently high during the past few years in Italy.
Instead, attitudes towards vaccines against Covid-19 must be read in the context of broader perceptions of the management of the current crisis, and of how those perceptions have changed from the first to the second wave of the pandemic.
According to surveys conducted by our group (see end note), Italian citizens’ evaluation of how well local, national and international institutions (including WHO) are managing the current crisis were largely positive in March and April 2020. More recent data, though, point to a significant worsening of that evaluation. The share of citizens who judge positively the role of national scientific experts has also decreased by 23% between April and October 2020, with a quarter of citizens now having a negative judgment (figure 1).
Figure 1. Answers to the question: how do you judge the work of the following actors/institutions in handling the pandemic (%). Source: Science in Society monitor, Observa Science in Society.
Our data also indicate that media overexposure of national scientific experts is increasingly perceived as a source of confusion: 62% lamented this confusion in October, versus 48% in April. Fewer than one fifth of Italian citizens now consider the experts’ communication to be clear and effective, and one-tenth would prefer them to provide their advice confidentially to policy-makers, rather than publicly (figure 2).
Figure 2. Answers to the question: think about the Italian scientific experts who have intervened publicly on the pandemic. Which of these statements best reflects your thinking? (%). Source: Science in Society Monitor, Observa Science in Society.
What are the main factors driving this change, and what can be learned in view of the next stages of the crisis?
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