To understand the development and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at City University of Hong Kong collaborated with the Centre for Public Affairs and Law to launch a multi-region comparative study. The survey examined residents from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the United States, and the United Kingdom about their attitudes towards vaccination, anti-pandemic measures, and information fatigue.
This study was led by Dr Edmund CHENG, Associate Professor at the Department of Public Policy and Dr LIN Fen, Associate Professor at the Department of Media and Communication. Questionnaires with over 7,200 respondents from the six aforementioned regions were conducted from 15 June to 30 June 2021. The self-reported vaccination rates matched well with that from official statistics (see Appendix I).
The major findings are as follows:
1. Compared to the older respondents, the younger groups in Hong Kong were more hesitant when it came to the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. Respondents aged 40-49 and those aged 60 or above were relatively more concerned that their refusal to get vaccinated would result in the continuation of restrictive social measures in the long run (see Appendix II);
2. In Hong Kong, respondents from the youngest and the highest income groups were more resistant towards the government having access to their personal data in the face of crisis; they were also most worried about their privacy being infringed (see Appendix III);
3. Compared to other regions, Hong Kong scored higher in the conspiracy index for vaccination and tracking policies, etc. In addition, respondents from Hong Kong had higher vaccine skepticism and were more reluctant to convince people around them to get vaccinated. Furthermore, this study revealed a similar trend across the six regions concerning vaccine hesitancy - those who latched onto conspiracy theories tended to doubt the effectiveness of vaccines, and thus less willing to get vaccinated (see Appendix IV);
4. Those who lacked trust in the political system were prone to believe that the goal of vaccination was to trace and control people. Results from Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore exhibited similar tendencies. In Hong Kong, those who received pandemic-related news through traditional media channels tended not to believe in conspiracy theories. On the other hand, using “scientific reports” as the primary source of information increased the probability of believing in conspiracies - this observation was consistent across the six regions. A plausible explanation for this phenomenon was that, the widespread of pseudo-scientific information across the regions during the pandemic might cause confusion, and people might not be able to make informed judgement (see Appendix V
5. The magnitude of infodemic suffered by Hong Kong respondents was the lowest among the six regions, with a score below average. South Korea suffered from infodemic the most, followed by Singapore. In Hong Kong, respondents who were female, from the older generation and the middle class suffered less from infodemic (See Appendix VI);
6. During the pandemic, work and our everyday life have become more digitalised. A digital divide was observed across various groups of respondents. Female and the lower income group were found to be disadvantaged in digital access, capacity, and benefits. Also, the elderly in Hong Kong lagged behind others in terms of digital capacity and benefits (see Appendix VII).
The research team notes that the survey results display why Hong Kong’s vaccination rate has gradually reached a bottleneck. “The number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong has been kept at a remarkably low level, which leads to the lowest infodemic level among all regions. Issues including trust towards political system and vaccine efficacy, and the digital divide have shaped the discrepant attitudes towards vaccination. These divergences between different social groups hindered a focused discussion on anti-pandemic policies and the social recovery,” said the team.
In view of this, the research team suggests that the government may consider collaborating with credible community groups and education organisations to provide targeted public health information and community support for people from different age groups and socio-economic classes. These measures may help combat misinformation, alleviate the public’s concerns towards vaccine effectiveness and personal privacy, and articulate the problems associated with the digital divide.
This project is funded by the University Grants Committee’s Knowledge Transfer Fund.