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Trust in Science Essential in Battle Against COVID-19
Gallup Blog

Trust in Science Essential in Battle Against COVID-19

by Lance Stevens and Ilana Ron-Levey
Trust in Science Essential in Battle Against COVID-19

The trust people have in the medical advice and health information they receive -- and who they trust to provide them -- is always critical, but is particularly important now as the world is scrambling to combat the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19.

But whom do people trust most for this information? Across much of the world, this answer is overwhelmingly doctors and nurses, according to the 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor survey. Nearly three in four (73%) adults worldwide say they trust a doctor or nurse most, far more than information from family and friends, traditional healers, religious leaders and celebrities.

The same is true across the eight Asian countries and areas that currently account for the bulk of confirmed cases. A median of 81% say they most trust doctors and nurses for health advice and 11% trust family and friends. The pattern is the same in the country at the epicenter of the current outbreak, China, where 62% say they trust doctors and nurses most and 17% trust family and friends.

Bar chart. Trust in various entities to provide medical information and advice.

As is evident in the current coronavirus epidemic, governments are also key players in providing important medical advice and health information to the public. When asked directly about government, worldwide, fewer than three in 10 adults (29%) say they trust medical advice coming from the government of their respective nation "a lot." While this number may seem low, when expanded to "a lot" or "some," more than three in four (76%) said they trust medical advice from their government.

In the eight Asian countries and areas, the median response is again similar, with 79% reporting "some" or "a lot" of trust in government to provide medical advice. Despite a larger group with positive sentiment, however, the certitude of trust is lower in these nations, with fewer reporting "a lot" of trust than the global average.

How much do you trust medical and health advice from medical workers/the government of this country?
Global average
A lot A lot/Some
% %
Medical professionals 37 84
Government 29 76
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

How much do you trust medical and health advice from medical workers/the government of this country?
"Affected" Asia median
A lot A lot/Some
% %
Medical professionals 37 95
Government 23 79
Affected Asia: China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

But the data from the Wellcome Global Monitor again point back to doctors and nurses as a stronghold of trust for medical and health advice. When asked an identical question about medical workers as sources of medical advice, across the globe, 37% trust the advice "a lot." In Asia, the median across the eight countries and areas was a convincing 95% reporting "a lot" or "some" trust, and less than 1% responding "not at all." This means the world places more trust in health advice from medical professionals than from governments, particularly in the affected Asian countries and areas.

Perceptions of Vaccination Effectiveness and Safety

While scientists are working on treatment therapies for COVID-19, a vaccine for the virus could be anywhere from several months to a year away. But regardless of when the vaccination is ready, to effectively deploy it, the public needs to trust that it will work and will be safe.

Even with continued medical advances in vaccine technology, perceptions about vaccinations' effectiveness and safety are not universally high in today's world. When asked if they believe if vaccines are effective, 14% of adults who had heard of vaccines did not agree. When asked if vaccines are safe, 18% did not agree.

In the eight Asian countries and areas, trust in vaccines is even more tenuous. A median of about one in five each did not agree that vaccinations are effective or safe. This means two in 10 people where the virus is most prevalent have doubts that vaccines work.

Trust in the Effectiveness, Safety of Vaccines
% Disagree
Vaccines are safe Vaccines are effective
% %
Global average 18 14
"Affected" Asia median 21 20
"Affected" Asia: China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam
Wellcome Global Monitor, 2018

Conclusions

As COVID-19 continues to spread, claiming lives and threatening economic progress across the globe, the race to find solutions is on. In this situation, people's trust in science is paramount.

The data from the Wellcome Global Monitor suggest:

  • Messages to the public should come from those they trust most for this type of information, including medical workers.
  • Government, although not trusted to the same extent as medical professionals, is still a credible source of information in most cases. If the government works in tandem with doctors and nurses to share public health advice, it will likely increase effectiveness.
  • Trust in friends and family to provide medical advice should not be overlooked. Campaigns that gain the backing of the public may create positive peer pressure or credibility of institutions or medical practices, such as vaccinations.
  • Successfully developing a vaccine to stem the coronavirus is only one part of the solution; building trust in vaccine safety is equally important. Increasing the public's perceptions of the importance and safety of vaccinations may serve to increase the likelihood of cooperation if or when a vaccination is deployed.

The future is still unknown. To what measure the virus will be curtailed or stopped remains to be seen. But one thing is certain -- trust and the public's perception of medical advice, government, doctors and vaccines will play a key role in the world's future health.

More detailed analysis about the world's attitudes toward science -- including vaccines -- is available in the Wellcome Global Monitor report, and the data are open to the public through the Wellcome website.


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