The importance of trust in the government and its impact on the new COVID-19 vaccine
The importance of trust in the government has never been more important with the announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine. The news has given us all a glimmer of hope, and has got many asking whether this is the end of the pandemic and whether this is our way back to a normal life?
Whilst the announcement from drug company Pfizer was hailed by politicians and global stock markets as very promising, it is important that the public are confident that the vaccine will work, which is why government trust is going to be so important going forward.
A recent study has shown that trust in the government is going down, just at the time when it’s needed most. In the UK there is a growing trust deficit between government officials and members of the public who are increasingly worried that they are being fed misinformation.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson needs the British public to feel confident that they’re being told the truth in all announcements. Government disapproval is staggering high with 53% disapproving of the government. Which is a complete flip from the start to the pandemic when the approval rating was 52%.
The fall in public trust does not seem to have travelled into Scotland and Wales, with research being done by University College London (UCL) saying that confidence has actually improved for Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford, with those saying they have ‘no confidence’ reducing from 33% to 27%, and 26% to 25% respectively.
A history of poorly-executed initiatives like track and trace and hard-to-understand regional lockdown rules has made a huge impact. And who can forget high-profile breaches of rules and regulations by Dominic Cummings and even Boris Johnsons father which have no doubt contributed to the breakdown in public confidence?
Loss of confidence
Recent polls have suggested that there is a skew between the government trust and the covid vaccine vs. health officials. Pubic trust in health officials is increasing with 77% having ‘a lot’ or ‘fair amount’ of confidence in health authorities to their response to the coronavirus whereas this is set against only 32% think that the UK government is handing COVID-19 well.
The loss of confidence by the public is worrying at a time when we will be asked to believe information around a coronavirus vaccine. But previous confusing government messages on COVID-19 have eroded confidence from the pubic, they have created a gap between those in Westminster and health officials managing the pandemic a local level.
The C-19 National Foresight Group has highlighted the tendency by government to over promise and under deliver, this coupled with last-minute announcements and often contradictory messages show the importance of communication in times of crisis. The report cited a local leader saying “One minute it [Covid-19] will all be over by Christmas, the next minute Christmas is cancelled. We are seemingly no longer even following the science. The public is bemused and becoming very angry and public messages have lost credibility.”
With another saying “The risk is that we are starting to lack integrity with the public and will ultimately lose their trust.”
The need for a vaccine confidence project?
Battles for public trust are likely to be focused on any news around safe and effective covid-19 vaccines. Those in Downing Street know that there is a problem with a lack of patience and trust, but seemingly has no method for replacing that patience.
Often advice has come from Number. 10 that contradicts the science. Prior to the national lockdown, scientists were pushing a drastic list of recommendations for the nation.
People are more likely to trust scientists during a pandemic, and when the science is clear, the public wants to hear from those specialists. 85% of people want to hear more from scientists and less from politicians, so is it time to hear from the school of public health?
Will getting Brexit done restore trust?
All the evidence points to people believing that the government has squandered any trust that people were willing to offer it over the management of the COVID pandemic. And a time when they are in further danger of losing even more trust if they fail to deliver an effective Brexit deal.
A recent report from UK in a Changing Europe examined how getting Brexit done will potentially restore political trust. With the main findings being
- COVID-19 has had a significant impact on trust by ‘diverting public attention onto the government’s direct management o the pandemic and its fallout for the economy, the health system and education’
- The prime minister and his government are trusted with Brexit, but it has limited benefit on trust
- Battles for public trust are like to focus on a post-coronavirus recovery, and perhaps most worrying:
- That there is widespread scepticism that the government would try and ‘hide behind’ covid’ when it came to any potential negative impact from Brexit
One of the scientists in the UCL study Dr. Fancourt, says “This loss of confidence is deeply concerning as it is related to people’s willingness to follow guidelines and rules. It is vital that the Government listens to people’s concerns and tries to rebuild people’s trust.”
- UCL’s Covid-19 social study surveyed more than 70,000 respondents over 28 weeks to understand the effects of the pandemic on public opinion.
- The Foresight report is based on data collected in mid-September from 160 professionals in local government, NHS, fire and police services, and voluntary groups involved in local resilience forums – bodies set up in 42 areas of England and Wales to prepare for and respond to major incidents and catastrophic events.
An experienced digital PR, marketing and social media marketing strategist, Claire leads PR strategy and delivery at Igniyte across multiple countries and sectors.
With 16 years’ experience in marketing, communications and PR, she seamlessly directs all elements of B2B and B2C online PR to gain high-ranking positive coverage for our clients in regional, national, international and specialist online media – and she helps ensure that any risks are managed and mitigated.