The Covid-19 crisis has tested governments and healthcare systems worldwide as they work to limit the virus’s spread and treat the millions who have been infected. At the same time, it has presented the scientific community with the urgent task of developing reliable diagnostic tests and treatments, as well as safe and effective vaccines that could end the pandemic. An equally challenging aspect is that the situation has called for coordinated responses among billions of people to adhere to government guidelines and recognise the importance of their role in managing the threat.
This coordination between scientists, healthcare officials and populations – or the lack of it – may have influenced the perceptions of science’s role in combatting diseases in ways that have implications for future outbreaks. In 2020, the Wellcome Global Monitor sought to better understand how this crisis has affected people around the world and how their experiences may have influenced their trust of those involved in addressing it – most notably, scientists and the scientific community in each country, as well as healthcare workers and government officials. The Monitor also addressed questions that have critical implications for the management of future disease outbreaks by asking about:
- the extent to which people feel different sources of guidance during the pandemic – including those of their government, healthcare workers and religious leaders – base their decisions on scientific advice
- people’s views regarding their government’s involvement in combatting future disease outbreaks wherever they occur
Wellcome believes that science is a global endeavour and has advocated for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments around the world since the start of the pandemic. However, poor decisions and slow responses in many countries have contributed to protracted outbreaks1,2,3. Several high-income countries, including some in the G7 and G20, have not fully supported a global response4; as a result, the vast majority of people in low- and middle-income countries have not had access to vaccines in 2021.
Data on public support for global efforts to prevent and control disease – and how that support may relate to people’s experiences during the pandemic – may help leaders make more informed decisions about contributing to such efforts moving forward. Just as importantly, understanding how people around the world view science and scientists is critical to efforts to ensure widespread public attention to and compliance with scientific recommendations in future crises.
The 2020 Wellcome Global Monitor gathered data in 113 countries during the pandemic.
The findings presented in this report are based on nationally representative surveys in 113 countries and territories conducted in 2020 and early 2021. Data collection in most countries took place between September and early December of 2020, a period in which, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO), coronavirus cases surged in several regions5:
- In the Americas, the number of new cases gradually rose from a low point in early September through to early November, then rose much more sharply between mid-November and mid-December. The United States accounted for most of the new cases and deaths in the region during this period.
- In the Eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, new cases rose steadily from a low point in late July to a peak in mid-November before beginning a rapid decline.
- In the European region, the number of new cases remained low for much of the summer in 2020 before climbing abruptly in late October, then began a gradual and uneven decline for the remainder of the year.
- In the Southeast Asia region (which includes India and Bangladesh in WHO’s category), new cases and deaths climbed steadily through the summer months before peaking in mid-September and then declining until the end of 2020.
Most data were collected prior to the WHO’s first emergency-use vaccine validation on 31 December 20206. However, survey periods in some countries extended from December 2020 into January or February 2021, with possible implications for the results. These countries comprise several Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay, and eight countries in other global regions: Croatia, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Nepal and Thailand7.
Notably, the timing of the data collection may have affected the responses to Covid-19-related questions. For example, in countries and territories where data collection occurred later, people had had more time to experience consequences of the pandemic (whether economic, health-related or otherwise). Further, many of those interviewed in December 2020 or early 2021 probably knew that vaccine approval was imminent or had already occurred, which may have influenced their overall trust in science and scientists or their perception that leaders in the healthcare community base Covid-19 decisions on scientific advice. However, with conditions changing rapidly around the world during this period, it is difficult to identify these effects in the data.
- Baris, O. F., & Pelizzo, R. (2020). Research note: Governance indicators explain discrepancies in Covid-19 data. World Affairs, 183(3), 216-234. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0043820020945683
- Covid-19: “Poor decisions” to blame for UK death toll, scientists say. (2021, January 27). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-55820178
- Deluca, N. Calatrava, A., & Armario, C. [A.P.]. (2020, October 19). Argentina hits 1 million cases as virus slams Latin America. ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/argentina-5th-nation-pass-million-coronavirus-cases-73705418
- Wellcome statements on Covid-19 | Press release [Farrar, J. statement made 2021, May 12]. (n.d.). Wellcome. https://wellcome.org/press-release/wellcome-statements-novel-coronavirus-Covid-19
- Weekly epidemiological update – 29 December 2020. (2020). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/weekly-epidemiological-update---29-december-2020
- WHO issues its first emergency use validation for a Covid-19 vaccine and emphasizes need for equitable global access | Press release. (2020, December 31). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news/item/31-12-2020-who-issues-its-first-emergency-use-validation-for-a-covid-19-vaccine-and-emphasizes-need-for-equitable-global-access
- See Appendix B, which shows the country dataset details for each country’s specific field period.