Wave 12

COSMO Canada

Implementing the WHO Behavioural Insights tool on COVID-19 to inform response efforts, including policy, interventions and communications.


To support federal response efforts, Impact Canada is leading the implementation of the World Health Organization (WHO) Behavioural Insights (BI) Tool on COVID-19 in the Canadian context. This work is led in collaboration with the Public Opinion Research Team within the Privy Council Office’s (PCO) Communications and Consultation Secretariat, which supports the Prime Minister’s Office in coordinating government communications in accordance with key priorities.

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With a longitudinal design, the study follows 2,000 participants recruited from an online panel over sixteen data collection waves. New participants are added only when an original panelist stops participating.

Respondents are a representative mix of Canadian adults aged 18 years and older and results are weighted using 2016 Statistics Canada census data to mirror the population distribution in Canada.


When interpreting the COSMO results it is useful to keep in mind the context of the data collection period, which may have influenced the responses of survey participants (see Annex C). During the Wave 12 data collection period (March 17-23, 2021), COVID-19 cases were rising in Canada and in other parts of the world. Media coverage focused heavily on the new, more contagious COVID-19 variants and the onset of the third wave of the pandemic in Canada.

The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccines had been approved for use in Canada and approximately 7% of the population had been vaccinated (as of March 17).

Prior to, and during the collection period, there was significant news coverage of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In early March, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine not be given to Canadians aged 65 and older. Several EU countries also announced that they were pausing the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reported side-effects. NACI’s updated recommendation to only provide the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 55+ was announced after the Wave 12 data collection period.


This report focuses on the results for the twelfth wave of this research. 2,070 Canadians aged 18 and older were surveyed between March 17 and 24, 2021. The data was weighted to ensure that the sample distribution reflects the actual Canadian adult population according to Statistics Canada census data. There is no associated margin of error for the results, since a non-probability design means that results cannot be projected to the larger population.


Public Risk Perceptions

The proportion of respondents who indicated that “the worst of the crisis is behind us” increased sharply between Waves 10 (10%), 11 (25%) and 12 (35%), as the number of respondents who think we are “currently experiencing the worst of the crisis” and think “the worst is behind us” declined. Younger respondents are most optimistic – respondents aged 18-34 are more likely to think that “the worst of the crisis is behind us” (45%), compared to older age groups (33% of respondents aged 35-54 and 30% of respondents 55+). Similarly, the proportion of respondents who think that COVID-19 feels like it is “spreading fast,” declined from 55% in Wave 10 to 42% in Wave 11 and 40% in Wave 12.

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Information Sources

Trust in and use of government information sources (e.g., federal public health leaders, daily press conferences) was highest early on in the pandemic and has declined slowly since. In Wave 12, use of and trust in government information sources about COVID-19 rebounded slightly after reaching the lowest levels COSMO has observed since data collection began. Trust remains the highest in government health agencies (56%), provincial public health leaders (53%), and federal public health leaders (51%).

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Compliance with Protective Behaviours

The majority of COSMO respondents report always or almost always complying with most public health measures such as mask wearing (84%), frequent hand washing (73%), and physical distancing (72%). Despite worries that individuals would float public health measures post-vaccination, respondents who have already been vaccinated (n=215), reported similar or higher levels of adherence to public health behaviours. However, 40% of all respondents – and 36% of vaccinated respondents – reported having visited with friends or family indoors in the past two weeks (up from 30% in Wave 11). This suggests that respondents are finding avoiding social gatherings to be more difficult than following other public health measures.

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Mental Health & Well-being

Reported life satisfaction rebounded slightly in Wave 12 after reaching the lowest point COSMO has observed in Wave 11. Just over a third of respondents (40%) are very satisfied/satisfied with their lives (up from 35% in Wave 11), while 21% are very dissatisfied/dissatisfied (down from 24% in Wave 11). Despite the modest increase in life satisfaction, high numbers of respondents continue to report feeling anxious (44%), lonely (39%), and depressed (37%) either occasionally or most/all of the time.

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Vaccine Confidence

COSMO asks respondents about their intentions to vaccinate across several different measures to add nuance to our growing understanding of hesitancy and its drivers. Overall, vaccine intentions increased in Wave 12 and more respondents indicated that they will get a vaccine as soon as it is available to them.

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Returning to "Normal"

When asked about the likelihood of re-engaging in behaviors that were normal pre-pandemic, only a minority of respondents thought it was likely that they will go to a large indoor gathering (30%, up from 22% in Wave 11), fly on a plane (17%, up from 13% in Wave 11), or travel to the US (11%) in the next year. Young respondents (18-34) were more likely to say that they will engage in these behaviours in the next year, and older respondents (55+) reported that they are less likely to do so.

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Travel Intentions and Border Measures

A majority of respondents indicated that they would like to see both US restrictions (83%) and international restrictions (84%) remain in place for 1-6+ months. Despite the rollout of vaccines, travel intentions and intentions to fly on a plane within the next year remain low. There is also low comfort with increasing travel with certain countries. The only country where respondents have become somewhat more comfortable with increased travel is Australia (13% in Wave 9, 17% in Wave 11 and 19% in Wave 12).

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Next steps

The Impact Canada Behavioural Science team will use a series of statistical analyses to look for patterns in the data, allowing us to answer questions like:

  • How do intentions to vaccinate change over time?
  • How do changes in trust in government information sources affect changes in intentions to vaccinate over time?
  • How do individual-level characteristics (e.g., gender, baseline knowledge or anxiety, infection status) affect changes in intentions to vaccinate over time?
  • How do interactions between gender and trust in government information sources affect changes in intentions to vaccinate over time?

Contact us

To learn more or explore working with us, please contact the Impact and Innovation Unit of the Privy Council Office.

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