Vaccine hesitancy among Polish migrant essential workers in the UK

In our recent guest blog for SPICe – the Scottish Parliament Information Centre – we focused on Polish essential workers in Scotland and their intentions to get vaccinated against Covid-19. In this blog, we look at the vaccine intentions for our entire sample and how it differs by age groups, gender, education level and sector of employment.

At the beginning of the vaccination programme in the UK, in February-March 2021 the majority of Polish essential workers we surveyed, 67%, declared that they intended to be vaccinated or already had been (see Figure 1, a bottom right chart [1]). Overall, about 12% thought they would not vaccinate against Covid-19, 18% did not know what they would do, and 3% refused to respond. 

Together these three answers sum up to 33% and reflect fairly high vaccine hesitancy – defined as a delay or refusal of vaccination despite its availability (SAGE 2014) – among Polish essential workers in the UK. In contrast, according to an ONS survey from January-February 2021, only 9% of UK adults (16+) reported vaccine hesitancy. However, the vaccination hesitancy of Polish essential workers in the UK was still lower than among people in Poland, where in January 2021 only 57% of those surveyed were keen to get vaccinated or already had done so (CBOS 2021).

Going back to our survey, vaccine hesitancy is higher among younger Poles – below 40 years old [2]. Education level can partially explain the difference, as 18-29 years olds were less likely to be highly educated (47%), in comparison to 30- and 40-year-old participants (60%) in our sample. Overall, while vaccine hesitancy was expressed by 43% of Polish essential workers without a higher degree diploma, for those who held such diploma it was still relatively high – 26%. 

More women in our sample had already got vaccinated (Figure 2), possibly due to working more often in health- and care-related occupations (see our previous blog). At the same time, women were more likely to feel uncertain about the vaccine and 19% of them replied ‘Don’t know’ compared to 15% of men. In surveys, in general, women are more prone to avoid responding to sensitive and health-related questions. Looking at the intersection of age and gender, women aged 30-39 most often expressed vaccine hesitancy and 42% of them replied either No, Don’t know or Prefer not to say [3]. Their higher hesitancy might be linked with more concerns about possible fertility side-effects.

Figure 3 shows the vaccine question by four broad sectors of employment. As expected, Poles working in health and care-related occupations expressed lower vaccine hesitancy (22%), than those working in other sectors. It was the highest among workers who worked in utility services and transport (44%) and production, sale or delivery of food and other necessary goods (42%).

It is important to acknowledge that vaccine hesitancy varies across time. As more information and research becomes available, it has generally been declining among ethnic minority groups in the UK. We have proposed how to address vaccine hesitancy among Poles in the UK in our SPICe blog


  1. As we explained in our first blog, people in their 30s and 40s constitute about half of the population of adult Poles in the UK, hence we acknowledged it in our sampling strategy.
  2. This age pattern is also visible in the entire UK population: 
  3. Vaccine hesitancy by age groups and gender: men – aged 19-29: 35%, 30-39: 30%, 40-65: 20%. women – aged 19-29: 35%, 30-39: 42%, 40-65: 30%.