Despite many countries having since restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine, polling suggests it has had little impact on the way Britons perceive the risk of taking it. A YouGov/Times poll this month found 75 per cent still consider it to be “very” or “somewhat” safe — just two percentage points lower than the 77 per cent who felt this way in mid-March, before Britain advised under-30s to take an alternative vaccine. That is in stark contrast to the way the jab is now perceived in European countries.
Such a notion might be difficult to prove. But the idea that emotions play a role in the way that we evaluate risk, and that humans are not able to simply weigh up the numerical chances of various outcomes and, robot-like, arrive at a decision, is one that has been well established in recent decades.
“Social scientists are now beginning to appreciate the extent to which things like political beliefs . . . leach into people’s ostensibly objective judgments,” George Loewenstein, a behavioural economist at Carnegie Mellon University, tells me. He adds that “people are disproportionately afraid of things where they think the risk is the product of someone who has a kind of malign intent, or of some malicious force”.