Politicians volunteering to get vaccinated on camera is a band-aid solution

By Jennifer Bergman
Europe Analyst

Bernie Sanders, Mike Pence, and Joe Biden. Although they may have vastly different political views they all share one thing in common, their COVID-19 vaccination has become immortalised on camera. In light of the recent weeks development in the roll out of vaccines against COVID I am becoming increasingly interested with what makes people sceptical towards vaccine. Sure, the anti-vaccination movement has been around for long, but the events that has taken place during 2020 has added a new dimension to this and I find myself questioning the validity of the COVID-19 vaccine. Not because of any conspiracy theory or distrust in science, but because I no longer fully trust the judgement of those in charge.

Western governments’ failure to deal with the outbreak from onset has fuelled citizens’ distrust of their leaders being able to take decisions that are in their best interest. This is reflected in a recent study by Kantar (Kantar, 2020). There has been a lack of transparency from those in charge which has fuelled unnecessary public fear. Citizens have been given vague guidelines, put in and out of lockdowns, instructed that they can go out and socialise to then have blame put on them when infections have subsequently risen. I understand that navigating a global pandemic is an unprecedented task for most governments but there are those who have handled it well with clear and swift actions, such as New Zealand or Norway.

We need to take this decreasing trust in governments seriously. Western democracies are built on a bond of trust between citizens and elected leaders, a bond that has already seen a breakdown in recent years. Figures from last year show that only 45% of citizen in OECD countries trusted their government (OECD, 2019). Reducing trust in those in charge can have long-lasting consequences, we have already seen this manifested in the recent wave of populism that has grown over the past few years. Famously, Donald Trump was able to capitalise on this trend in the 2016 presidential election but other European countries have also seen the rise of far-right parties gaining support by positioning themselves as the anti-elite. The way our governments act today could set the tone of the political landscape for years to come.

In the wake of the EU approval of Pfizer’s vaccine and the upcoming challenge of mass-vaccination, governments are finding themselves in a bed of their own making. Scepticism against the COVID-19 vaccine is just a symptom of the underlying distrust in government and institutions. A distrust fuelled by their inability to successfully handle the pandemic, causing politicians to lose more of the scarce public capital they had before this year started. Addressing this needs to be a priority to repair a functioning, stable, post-COVID society. Some governments have already taken steps towards this, publicly acknowledging that they could have handled it better (Henley, 2020). However, it is going to take more than apologies and public vaccinations of politicians to address a level of governmental distrust that has been years in the making.

References:
Henley, Jon. “We Should Have Done More, Admits Architect of Sweden’s Covid-19 Strategy”. 3 June 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/03/architect-of-sweden-coronavirus-strategy-admits-too-many-died-anders-tegnell

Kantar. ”Infographic: Public Opinion About COVID-19 Vaccination.” 2020.

https://www.kantar.com/inspiration/coronavirus/infographic-public-opinion-about-covid-19-vaccination
OECD. “Trust in Government.” 2019. https://www.oecd.org/gov/trust-in-government.htm

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