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COVID 19: How does it affect you?

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A team of researchers at University College Dublin (UCD) conducted an online interview study about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This study is a pan-European study led by researchers at the University of Vienna and includes nine countries, including the Republic of Ireland. We are interested to learn how citizens respond to the pandemic, and what they think about measures suggested or imposed by their governments to slow down the spread of the virus. We are interviewing people in several European countries to compare how people respond to the crisis. The study has been approved by the Ethics Committee at the University of Vienna and vetted by the Ethics Committee at University College Dublin.

We have concluded the second wave of interviews and data analysis is in progress. Please follow this page for further updates. A heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated from all across Ireland.

BLOGS

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Covid-19 vaccine: to whom and why? An overview of the Irish data

By Dr Emma Stendahl, Dr Ilaria Galasso and PhD candidate Ongolly Fernandos (February 2021).
All authors have contributed equally

This blog draws upon data collected in the context of the multinational study “Solidarity in times of a pandemic: What do people do, and why?”, coordinated by the Center for the Study of Contemporary Solidarity (CeSCoS) at the University of Vienna, Austria. For a list of country leads and partners, see: https://digigov.univie.ac.at/solidarity-in-times-of-a-pandemic-solpan/solpan/team-solpan/. In this blog post, we report some of the findings that emerged from the second round of interviews conducted in October 2020. The purpose of the second round of interviews was to ask follow-up questions to the first round of interviews, conducted in April 2020. We wanted to understand participants’ changing practices (i.e., work life, personal life and social life), challenges, protecting practices and measures, thoughts on authorities’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, information sources and future outlook. In the second round, we added a question about the Covid-19 vaccine. At the time of the interviews (October 2020), the approval for the first Covid-19 vaccine in Europe was underway and the roll out of the vaccine in Ireland had not yet started. We asked our 25 participants the question: if there was a vaccine for Covid-19, what would be reasons and/or conditions for them to get the vaccine or not get the vaccine and who should be prioritized in case of resource scarcity? Below we provide a brief overview of the findings related to the Covid-19 vaccine in Ireland. 

What are the attitudes towards the Covid-19 vaccine? 

Based on the question “if there was a vaccine for Covid-19, what would be reasons and/or conditions for them to get the vaccine or not get the vaccine?”, we grouped the participants’ answers into three broad categories: ‘Yes definitely’, ‘Maybe later’, ‘Probably not’. 

Participants that we positioned within the “Yes definitely’ group demonstrated a positive attitude towards the Covid-19 vaccine and expressed a strong desire to get the vaccine. Although the reasons for getting the Covid-19 vaccine varied, common arguments among these participants were not to get the virus, not to be infectious and to put an end to this pandemic. Generally, this group of participants demonstrated high levels of trust in the pharmaceutical companies’ clinical trials and considered the Covid-19 vaccine to be safe and effective if it went through the clinical trial processes. Participants that we positioned within the ‘Maybe later’ group expressed mixed feelings about the Covid-19 vaccine. In general, these participants considered taking the vaccine, however they expressed a desire to wait until it has been fully tested over a longer period of time to detect any potential side effects. If no side effects were detected, they would consider taking the vaccine. Our analysis revealed that the majority of our participants subscribed to this attitude on the Covid-19 vaccine. In addition, a  few participants demonstrated a strong negative attitude towards the Covid-19 vaccine, and we positioned these participants within the “Probably not’ category. Although participants acknowledged that a vaccine is probably necessary to end the Covid-19 pandemic, the reasons for not taking the vaccine themselves were that they were highly skeptical toward vaccinations in general (due to knowledge of and/or personal experience of negative side effects of vaccines) and towards the Covid-19 vaccine in particular, arguing that it will be too risky with unknown side effects.

Despite various attitudes on the Covid-19 vaccine, general concerns among the participants in the groups were related to the speed of development of the vaccine and a perceived competition between pharmaceutical companies to develop the vaccine and between countries to get access to vaccine doses. Our participants feared that this may compromise the quality and safety, and the administration, of the vaccine.  

Getting information about the Covid-19 vaccine and whom to trust?

Most participants reported that they would get their news about the vaccine from the mainstream Irish media, specifically RTÉ News, local radio stations as well as international media such as the BBC. Apart from these media, acquaintances were trusted sources of vaccine information too. Some of the participants also mentioned that they would visit the World Health Organization website and other scientific resources that give vaccine updates. The Irish government also came in as a trustful source of vaccine information; participants specifically expressed a lot of trust on information from the HSE. In addition, there were some participants who reported that they would trust vaccine information from access to medicines networks and research scientists. There was also keen interest in following up on information from healthcare workers who were believed to be at the forefront of the pandemic either through the media or through acquaintances. In contrast to the results from the first round of interviews conducted in April 2020, participants expressed less use of social media as a means of getting information about the vaccine and the pandemic in general. Despite the fact that pharmaceutical companies are at the forefront of vaccine research and manufacturing, some participants expressed a concern of getting biased information from them.

Distribution: who should take the vaccine first?

We found an agreement among our participants when we asked about who should be prioritized in case of resource scarcity: the vulnerable (understood as the elderly and/or people with underlying health conditions), and the healthcare workers. The participants who declared that they wanted to be vaccinated as soon as possible were ready to step back to give priority to these categories. Some participants suggested giving priority also to other groups in addition to the main two: “people keeping the economy going”, “mothers with children”, “young people” in schools, “people who are working in supermarkets”. When participants considered vaccine distribution at a global scale, they advocated for the same prioritization criteria being applied equitably across countries. 

We identified two main kinds of arguments (sometimes provided together) with which our participants motivated their priority criteria:

1) Compassion arguments: frontline healthcare workers should be prioritized because of their risky position; the vulnerable because they are less able to fight the virus if they get it.

2) Pragmatic arguments: healthcare workers should be prioritized because their activity is essential in the context of a pandemic; the vulnerable because otherwise would overload the health system. 

The considerations summarized here implicitly assumed vaccine priority as an advantage. In contrast, one participant who expressed a ‘Probably not’ attitude towards the vaccine, consistently refrained from providing prioritization criteria, as priority is perceived as “guinea pigging”.

Conclusion: Covid-19 vaccine as a practice of solidarity?

A variety of attitudes and arguments around Covid-19 vaccination emerged out of our interviews. In some cases, they were developed at an individual level, as participants balanced personal benefits and risks, by contrasting for example potential side effects of the vaccine and the possibility to be infected by the virus. In line with the outcome of their balance, participants often described the ‘ideal’ position they would choose for themselves on a hypothetical vaccine waiting list: “the sooner the better” or “I will be the last in line”. However, as discussed above, several participants reasoned about the vaccine at a societal, or even global level: it was often perceived not (only) as a way to be personally protected from getting the virus, but also as “a way out” of the pandemic itself. In this perspective, as explicitly acknowledged by some participants, taking or not taking the vaccine is a decision that also affects other people.  

Based on this argument, we suggest that in some cases the Covid-19 vaccination could be understood as a solidarity practice (solidarity defined as “enacted commitments to accept costs to assist others with whom a person or persons recognise similarity in a relevant respect”, Prainsack & Buyx 2017: 43): some participants were ready to ‘carry costs’, in terms of overcoming their concerns and getting the vaccine, in order to help everyone return to normal life. Some “probably not” participants were then open to consider getting the vaccine for the benefit of the population. In some cases, participants were open to participating in vaccine testing, against general concerns and personal reservations. 

In conclusion, our participants displayed various attitudes towards Covid-19 vaccine and its distribution, with various arguments and motivations. However, we interestingly noticed an openness to renegotiate positions if it is for the common good.

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Solidarity in Times of a Pandemic – Irish Overview (from 1st round of interviews)

By Dr Ilaria Galasso (November 2020)

While we have just concluded the second round of interviews (October 2020) and are busy analysing this data, we present here a first overview of what we found in the first round (conducted in April 2020) by focusing on the issue of solidarity.

Solidarity is the main focus of the SolPan Consortium this study is part of – Ireland is one of the 9 European countries that coordinated the collection of qualitative in-depth open-ended interviews by following the same interview outline to uncover how and why people respond to the pandemic and the ensuing policy measures (15 Latin American countries implemented a parallel study design, as part of “SolPan+”).

Solidarity is defined as: “an enacted commitment to carry ‘costs’ (financial, social, emotional or otherwise) to assist others with whom a person or persons recognise similarity in a relevant respect” (Prainsack and Buyx 2017, 52). In our case, the “similarity in a relevant respect” is quite obviously the exposure to the Covid19 pandemic and the related social crisis, which, in one way or another, concerns everyone. As a consequence, politicians and public authorities have repeatedly appealed to the concept of solidarity as a way through and out of this public health crisis.

In April, during the first lockdown, we conducted 32 interviews in Ireland. The word “solidarity” was used only once by our participants (“hopefully this crisis requires a lot of solidarity with older people, with the healthcare workers, with other workers who are most affected about that”), but similar concepts were expressed in terms of personal or social “responsibility” (“protecting the wider community”, to “do my part and stay healthy”, “trying to protect them [risk categories] as much as we can”) and “civic duty” (to protect others).

In several cases, even if they did not use any specific label, our respondents displayed ‘solidaristic reasoning’. It often was expressed in normative terms, by arguing that in order to control the pandemic and to get out of it, everyone should do their part and “take sacrifices”. On the other hand, several participants expressed themselves in descriptiveterms, by arguing that the solidarity that ought to be there, actually is there. In the words of one participant: “The caring gene has come to the fore”. Several participants declared themselves surprised and impressed by the cooperative response of the Irish population, by “people coming together like from all walks of life helping each other”, and even argued that it is thanks to people’s promptness and compliance about turning their lives over that Ireland was saved from a worse fate: “people, members of the public have done a really good job and I think they are probably the reason you know the public is the reason that the Covid 19 you know the pandemic has limited impact in this country”.

Concretely, in the experiences that the participants shared with us, solidarity is articulated across different practices. In particular, we can recognize two main articulations of solidarity: practices to protect people from getting the virus, and practices to give people support. To echo Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between negative and positive liberty (Berlin 1969), we can describe the articulation of solidarity in terms of protection as a negative one, in the sense that it is aimed to remove the factors that put people at risk of infection. On the other hand, the articulation of solidarity in terms of support can be described as a positive one, in the sense that it is aimed to provide people with something that can ameliorate their conditions.

Protecting practices are directed towards members of the family or of the social circle of the respondents, as well as toward the general public. As far as members of the families and friends are concerned, the main protection strategy implemented by our respondent is to avoid visiting and seeing them, although, in some cases, this causes huge emotional cost and it is described as the most painful aspect of the pandemic; nonetheless, it is accepted to avoid bringing the virus to loved ones. In several cases, people deliver groceries to vulnerable family members or neighbours (this is one of the supporting practices that will be discussed below), but also in these cases they carefully avoid any contact, and just drop the groceries off. Protecting practices are also implemented toward people living in the same household: several participants declared that it is to protect their household members that they are careful and compliant with all the recommendations when they are out, as they have to make sure not to “bring the virus into the house”. In some cases, especially when someone is particularly exposed, as in the case of healthcare workers, specific measures are also adopted in the house: changing clothes, leaving the shoes out of the door, frequent hand washing.

Protecting practices toward the general public are often intertwined with practices for protecting self (or household members in return), but in some cases our participants have been very explicit about the attention they have put into protecting others from themselves. They are aware that they cannot know if they are infected (and infectious) or not, as they could be asymptomatic. Accordingly, they feel the need to protect other people from themselves, mainly by keeping the adequate distance (in supermarkets and on the street).

In terms of supporting practices, the reported experiences mainly relate to logistical support and emotional support. Very little or no reference at all was made to economic support, unlike in other countries involved in the SolPan study (in Italy, for example, most respondents reported experience of food or money donations to those who cannot afford shopping). On the other hand, grocery collection and delivery for those who cannot leave the house, the elderly, or those who are cocooning, was reported as a very widespread phenomenon, to the extent that we have been told of a couple of cases of people who offered to volunteer in organizations shopping for vulnerable people, but there already were too many volunteers. These initiatives mainly consist of picking up and delivering food and medicines, and they are implemented by more or less organized groups (like local football teams) that set up Whatsapp groups or distribute flyers and collect groceries for whoever requests it; but individuals, as mentioned, also often regularly do the shopping for older or vulnerable relatives, neighbours, or friends. 

Another important form of support reported by our participants relates to emotional support. Emotional support is often in place whenever children are involved: several participants with children declared to be committed to try to “think up new things to do with them, so they don’t get bored”, and to make sure to play regularly with the children, and to give them a routine. Other instances of emotional support relate to family members in difficult situations. Since in many cases it may not be possible to see them (due to practical constraints or travel restrictions or, as seen, for individual choice aimed to protect them), our participants intensified communications with them: “We have calls, conference calls on a daily basis just to make sure she is OK.” Also, some participants demonstrated a deeper attention toward mental health issues of people who are not part of their close family but who are particularly fragile, and they committed to cheer them up: “I sometimes feel, he said, what’s the point of living now?  So I told him well, one major point for you living is I’d miss you.  And he smiled up.”

Something noticeably recurring in the Irish interviews, although not a solidarity practice itself, is the essential premise for any solidarity practice: the understanding of other people’s vulnerabilities and challenges, understanding that not “everybody is as fortunate as I am”. Most of our participants acknowledged how privileged they are with respect to other specific or general people under some aspects, and demonstrated to be sensitive to others’ vulnerabilities and challenges. This is articulated across the different aspects impacted by the crisis: in terms of health (“And I think there is also an element of there’s gratitude in it too, because thank God we are all well.  We’ve all stayed well to this point.  And that’s a lot to be thankful for”), of economic resources (“I suppose from my perspective it’s fine but maybe if someone has lost their job might have a different reaction”), of housing (“luckily I have the front garden and a back garden…I suppose if I was trapped in a flat, apartment, and I couldn’t get out the front garden or if I hadn’t as much space I would find that pretty difficult”), in terms of domestic issues (for instance the risk of domestic violence that others might live under) and in terms of risky jobs, obviously healthcare workers, but also less visible workers who are nonetheless exposed (“obviously apart from the health workers that are in the front line there are quite a lot of people actually at risk in their daily job, like for example the people that collect the rubbish”).

While we are working on more specific analyses to dig more deeply into these and other issues, from this overview on the first round of interviews we conclude that, although our participants very rarely explicitly refer to the concept of solidarity (or even to related concepts such as “social responsibility” or “civic duty”), they share and put in practice solidaristic values. They show perception of and sensitivity to other people’s challenges and vulnerabilities and act accordingly, on the one hand by paying attention to and complying with recommendations to prevent other people from being infected by the virus, and on the other hand by taking initiative to provide support and logistically and emotionally facilitate other people’s life through this pandemic. Overall, though we only have a small sample to judge from, it seems that solidarity practices are alive and well in Ireland!

CONTACT INFORMATION

If you have any questions about the study, please contact the UCD Research lead Prof Susi Geiger (email: Susi.geiger@ucd.ie or by telephone 01 7164813). For more information on Susi please click here or visit our MISFIRES “people” page.

You can find the information sheet for the study here

This research is part of a multinational study on “Solidarity in times of pandemics”, led by Professor Barbara Prainsack at the University of Vienna.

Access our study conducted in Italy.

Access our study conducted in Austria.