As a recent poll for DGP/RMF FM suggests, there are three main reasons behind vaccine hesitancy in the Polish society: people do not believe in the safety of vaccines, they know someone who experienced some bad side effects, and vaccines restrict their personal freedom. In other words, they do not consider vaccines as the way out of the epidemic but actually as an additional burden.
When it comes to the rollout of vaccines against Covid-19, the Polish society seems to be, literally, divided. As for now, 67% of people have got their first dose, while only around 57% of Poles have been fully vaccinated. This means that reaching the herd immunity will take longer than anticipated. Valid question is what failed on the side of policy makers in terms of the communication strategy relating to both the risk of anti-Covid vaccine and developing the disease.
The outbreak of Covid-19 back in 2019 has significantly changed peoples’ lifestyle and transformed their local communities. At the onset, Poland has introduced severe restrictions, including national lockdown and mandatory mask wearing anywhere in public. Many Poles showed solidarity with one another. In reaction to the national lockdown, people, either spontaneously or, in more organised ways, tried to help those more vulnerable. Some supported the elderly or disabled with daily shopping, while others, through a support line, spoke with those who felt lonely. Yet, this early days solidarity, to some extent, has not been reflected in further attitudes towards
The restrictions have seriously affected religious life in Poland as well as challenged the Catholic Church, the largest in Poland. In addition to wearing a face covering, fewer numbers of people could have participated in the religious service. This was disturbing, but, overall, Polish believers accepted and followed the new regulations. Also, the Church’s officials appealed for a responsible behaviour or taking care of those who might need some support in the early days of the epidemic. Nuns of some convents engaged with sewing face masks for the medical staff, badly needed those days.
As research has demonstrated, age, education, gender, income, location and political views can all contribute towards scepticism against getting immunised. As some studies have showed, religious views can matter too. Religious leaders, thus, can promote health norms and behaviour as they, traditionally, enjoy high social trust.
In Poland, with this clear-cut social division between those who take up the Covid-19 vaccines and the group which opposes them, the Church acts somewhat ambiguously. On the one hand, in July 2021, one of the high Catholic hierarchs in Poland, Arch Gadecki, appealed for those who hesitate vaccine to consider the common public good. He himself said in public that was immunised against Covid-19. Local Church’s hierarchs encouraged people to take up vaccines too. Some Catholic parishes served even as bases for immunisation centres.
On the other hand, the Church’s leadership aims to balance some of the extreme attitudes within the Polish society. For example, during a religious service in the church in a village Czatachowa, a priest told parishioners that face coverings could have poison them, so they should have been using holy water to sanitise their hands. Although local Church’s hierarchs criticised such superstitious attitudes towards religious beliefs.
The case of vaccine hesitancy and religious/social determinants in Poland emerges an interesting case study for two reasons. First, religion continues to play an important role in public life in the society. Potentially, churches churches can play a greater role in promoting health behaviour. Second, it is important to examine common beliefs and values which dominate in the anti-vaccination movement, and how they affect peoples’ understanding of health as well as their conduct.