October 18, 2021

The Oxford Vaccine: Why it mattered to the British public more than others

Picture the UK a year ago; we’d recently entered another lockdown, there was no vaccine available and the public was being warned not to take up vital Covid tests needed for NHS workers.

Back then, before a vaccine against coronavirus became a reality, Boris’s “moon-shot” plan to avoid a second national lockdown was centred around mass testing. Much of the discussion around vaccines and tests was still however based on a degree of uncertainty.

Yet, one vaccine was receiving particular attention. It was developed in the UK and had the potential to be great for the ‘Global Britain’ brand; the so-called “Oxford Vaccine.”

To fully understand the dialogue surrounding the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, we used a variety of media listening tools alongside Relative Insight, a text analytics platform that leverages comparison to uncover the linguistic differences in conversations.

Big picture trends – Before the vaccine rollout

In July 2020, the group involved in developing the vaccine at Oxford University, alongside AstraZeneca (AZ), reported positive results around the immune response. This news generated over 3.5 million social media interactions (over 5% of the UK population who liked, commented or shared the article). Key to note here was that the headline did not mention the pharmaceutical company who developed the vaccine, but Oxford University. The “Oxford Vaccine” was the star of the show.

Other measures of public social media interest bear this out; UK news in 2020 about the “Oxford vaccine” accounted for 52% of news coverage about the AstraZeneca vaccine (n=10,307) and media coverage about the “Oxford vaccine” attracted 2.5x and 1.9x more social media interactions than media coverage about the AstraZeneca vaccine and vaccines in general (820 interactions per article compared to 321 and 424 respectively). All before the mass vaccination drive had begun in 2021.

Big picture trends – During the vaccine rollout  

It’s this language around a ready-made British success story that we find interesting here at Ketchum Research & Analytics, so we looked to explore this further during the vaccine rollout. We were especially keen to understand how this cut through to the public, based on the posts and topics they shared online.

Using social listening tools, we analysed all UK social media conversation about vaccines (e.g. vaccines and jabs vs #novax) between January and August 2021 to understand the public’s perception of vaccines during the rollout.

Generally speaking, the more vaccinations that people received, the more that social media conversation about vaccines decreased. In January, social media conversation as a proportion of doses stood at 54%. Yet by April, the number stood at 0.3%. Furthermore, the average daily volumes for COVID conversation in April and June were 50% lower than seen in January.

That said, the portion of conversation against vaccines (#novax) did not see significant decreases. For instance, the #novax conversation in the UK saw a 32% higher daily average in April 2021 compared to January in the same year (333 per day compared to 255 in January).

When we looked at the #novax conversation in more detail and what the group were talking about, it turned out to be provenance. For the social media discussion carrying the term #novax, provenance of the vaccine was ranked second highest, whereas broader social media discussion about vaccines ranked eighth.


Throughout social media mentions and Google searches, we found that consumer language also reflected a focus on provenance. The Oxford vaccine accounted for 49% of overall conversation about branded vaccines. Further, the top search in the UK for Moderna’s vaccine was “Moderna vaccine is from which country” at 110 searches per month in August, peaking at 260 searches per month in February 2021.

Using Relative Insight, a text analytics software which uses comparative methodology to discover the differences in language between two or more data sets, we were able to analyse these social insights in even more detail.

After uploading the social data into the Relative Insight platform, we compared the conversations around the Oxford-AZ vaccine against the conversations around J&J, Moderna and Pfizer. Relative Insight pinpoints the words, phrases, grammar, topics and emotions present in one qualitative data set over another – enabling us to understand what makes something unique.

Our analysis found that the Oxford vaccine conversation was 10x more likely to contain mentions of a country of provenance, in comparison to Moderna, Pfizer and J&J. Words such as British and English appeared, suggesting that the idea of vaccine provenance really mattered to the public.

We also noticed some sneering by people on social media, seemingly a university-educated audience, at people wanting to “wait for the English one” and talking of the government wanting to print Union Jacks on Oxford vaccine doses was widespread. Both issues received over 100K retweets apiece. This was testament to ‘British’ branding of the AZ vaccine cutting through to the public.

The public referred to other branded vaccines as [brand] + covid vaccine. For instance, Moderna covid vaccine and Pfizer covid vaccine. But this was not the case for the Oxford vaccine; it was 5 times more likely to be known as just Oxford vaccine or AZ vaccine.  

Side effects

The public’s showed a disproportionate focus on the AZ vaccines over others, and this was evidenced by the increased focus on AZ’s side effects. In fact, when compared to Pfizer, AZ side effects were more likely to be discussed and people were 2.7x more likely to talk about the vaccine in relation to bodily functions. Some Twitter users wrote:

[email protected]: blood clots from AstraZeneca’s vaccine’ strike one in 50,000′, study claims”

“my colleague who had Az jab on 7th is in even more pain w her knees. limping now. she knows It`s the vax. she has GP appt next week. she really angry w herself for having it.”

“My F- I- L had a stroke last weekend, 24hrs after he had the 2nd Az jab. I link them, I don’t care they say, it’s happening too often.”

Essentially the uncertainty struck again, and it was a problem with our own jab as Brits.


The analysis surfaced another focus for the British public: The EU and manufacturing. The Oxford vaccine was 5x more likely to be discussed in relation to manufacturing than the other vaccines. One social media user wrote “EU leaders have singled out the AstraZeneca jab – the only jab which is produced at cost for no profit – the one which developing countries will be able to afford. The EU’s campaign of lies threatens to derail the global fight against COVID-19.”

The fact that EU leaders singled out the vaccine really cut through and provoked a reaction in sections of the British public. In short, the supplies of our vaccines and where they were manufactured mattered.

The bottom line

So why did the public latch on to the Oxford vaccine? Moderna and Pfizer allegedly boasted higher efficacy results in trials and real-world data. Yet, it’s clear that the messages of provenance and nationhood cut through as an optimistic message around the Oxford vaccine, particularly across the broader British public. Especially against the uncertain backdrop of a new set of vaccines and uncertainty around whether we’d have another lockdown. This vaccine had a connection to Oxford University, a British institution.

A connection to ‘Britishness’ was a powerful message no matter who you were; whether you had children, lived in the UK or not.


Research conducted by Ketchum London’s Research Director Vinay Chhana using Relative Insight