Strong support for COVID vaccine; financial stress and mental distress remain high

Australians welcome the COVID-19 vaccine but levels of mental distress and financial stress remain high, particularly among the young, according to the latest Taking the Pulse of the Nation survey.

Although Australia is technically no longer in a recession and labor force participation is on the rise the fortnightly survey, led by the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research at the University of Melbourne, shows that significant health and economic policy challenges remain in 2021.

About two in three Australians want to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, two in three – 65 per cent – are willing to wait until people with a higher risk of contracting the virus and/or becoming seriously get vaccinated first.

One in three Australians, however, are unsure or do not want to get the vaccine. Sixty six per cent say they are worried about side effects and 37 per cent claim they do not believe and / or trust the vaccine. Being low risk and having an existing condition of beliefs were also cited as reasons not to get vaccinated.

The fortnightly survey tracks changes in the economic and social wellbeing of Australians. The 26th wave of the survey was conducted from 1 to 6 February.

Professor Anthony Scott, Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne Institute, said the successful roll-out of the vaccine would require better awareness around the effectiveness of the vaccine in controlling the deadly effects of the pandemic.

“We know that the efficacy of the vaccine relies on herd immunity. Our results suggest that more public education around how and why the vaccine works might help allay concerns and improve participation,” said Professor Scott.

Despite easing of restrictions across much of the country and signs of economic recovery, Australians continue to report high levels of mental distress, similar to those reported at the beginning of the Survey in April 2020.

Twenty one per cent say they are experiencing anxiety and / or feel depressed some of the time – about the same as when the survey commenced in April last year.

Although 55 per cent report having little to no mental distress, young Australians are more likely to feel distressed. Thirty three per cent aged 18 to 24 say they experience mental distress most of the time, compared to nine per cent of those aged over 65 years.

Financial stress is also rising, particularly among young people, something Professor Guay Lim said requires a policy response. Forty three per cent of people aged 25 to 34 are financially stressed. compare to 19 per cent of 55 to 64 year olds, and eight per cent in the 65 and over group.

“This is concerning because those Australians most vulnerable to adverse financial shocks remain in the majority,” Professor Lim said.

The unemployment rate fell from a high of around 7.5 per cent in July to 6.6 percent in December 2020. The participation rate rose from 62.6 per cent in May 2020 to 66.2 per cent in December 2020.

Satisfaction with government policies to support jobs and keep people in work has significantly fallen from 62 per cent in April 2020 to 53 per cent at present.

“Australia might be on the road to recovery, but significant challenges remain if growth is to be inclusive. Governments need to take demographics and access to opportunities into account in mapping out our economic recovery,” Professor Lim said.