‘And that's Irish people?’ – expert surprised one third would not take Covid vaccine

Suspicion of a vaccine was just one finding of RTE’s Next Normal survey of life in pandemic-hit Ireland

The level of suspicion of a Covid vaccine was a surprising finding in The Next Normal

There’s a moment when David Nabarro, special envoy of WHO director general on Covid-19, seems uncertain. Has he heard Miriam O’Callaghan correctly, you see him wonder, when she indicated almost a third of Irish people would be unlikely to take the first publicly available EU-approved Covid vaccine. “And that’s people in Ireland? That’s really surprising to me,” he says, adding the WHO doesn’t want any vaccines which have questions about safety offered to people.

On the other hand, 56 per cent of people say they’re likely take the vaccine (12 per cent don’t know). But, as presenter Mark Coughlan pointed out, experts say 75 per cent of the population will need to get the vaccine to develop herd immunity.

The level of suspicion of a Covid vaccine was a surprising finding in The Next Normal (RTÉ One, Thursday), a Prime Time edition based on a Behaviours and Attitudes poll RTÉ commissioned six months into the Covid crisis, to measure shifts in values and attitudes. In an epic sweep, as well as a haul of results, the programme included filmed reports and multiple panels of commentators.

Another surprise, surely, is that 79 per cent of people expect their personal finances to be similar over the next 12 months compared to the past 12 months.


One big takeaway of the survey is how Covid has impacted differently on people. While 22 per cent are working from home, excluding part-time workers sees that jump to 42 per cent. A report tells a tale of two coffeeshops, one in Dublin city, with business decimated by the dearth of workers or tourists, while another in Kells thrives on foot of more people working from home. Young people, too, are disproportionately adversely impacted, illustrated in comments from all over the country, about lives frozen, lost sixth years, uncertain college life, unknown futures.

Many findings are not a surprise, but a confirmation of a gut feeling of what we sense we knew: 57 per cent of people are “re-evaluating what they are doing with their lives”; 82 per cent are proud to be Irish and how we have responded to the crisis; 94 per cent are proud of our healthcare professionals; 62 per cent of people value work/study life balance more.

Some figures are heartening: 90 per cent of teenagers value family life more now; 49 per cent of people appreciate nature around them more; 90 per cent of people think more about the needs of old people; 86 per cent of people value family life more.

Yet other results are concerning: 33% say their mental health has suffered in the past six months; 41 per cent of 18-34 year olds are worried about their mental health; 39 per cent of 25-34 year olds are worried about job security; 46 per cent aged 12-17 fear social isolation if there are more spikes.

Strikingly, 58 per cent of people don’t want life to go back to how it was before.

There are many talking heads on myriad panels with multiple angles.

Professor of psychiatry Brendan Kelly points out every age group has been affected, singling out the effects on the over-70s and younger people.

Infectious diseases doctor Paddy Mallon points out restrictions are not to punish us, but to get transmission rates down, then “everything gets better”, and says “we spend a lot of our time comparing ourselves to other countries. We need to stop doing that and find an Ireland-specific solution.”

Leo Varadkar is largely positive. “This pandemic does not have to result in a lost decade as the last economic crisis did,” he says, and he’s confident we’ll “lose a year of economic activity, and a year of our lives, but not ten years”.

Nabarro talks about a dashboard of indicators that play their part, saying “it’s not the number of cases or even the numbers in hospital or dying, that matters, it’s whether or not as a nation you’re able to get ahead of this virus and stop it spreading out of control”.

Pete Lunn of ESRI says the survey shows big changes in people’s world view, outlook, mental health, aspirations. “Not wanting to go back to what was there before, even though they’ve taken this enormous wellbeing hit… So there’s this huge degree of change, coupled with great uncertainty about the future.”

But perhaps the most evocative talking head about where we’re at is the opening spoken-word piece by poet Felicia Olusanya (aka FeliSpeaks), about how the virus “Left us breathless. For dead.” She says: “Ireland is standing still. Which way will our legs go?”