Why Many Americans Are Wary of The COVID-19 Vaccine
This article is part of a series of insights into what an Average American life really looks like.
The first Americans received the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. A glimmer of hope nearly a year into an ever-worsening pandemic.
The first groups to receive the vaccine are two considered to be exceptionally high risk — health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. Residents of long-term care facilities have been especially vulnerable, accounting for about 40% of coronavirus deaths in the US. Together these two groups make up around 24 million Americans.
But are Americans ready to take the vaccine?
A number of polls have tracked American sentiment towards a potential vaccine throughout most of the pandemic. The percentage of people who say they would take a vaccine has changed over time, often as a response to the news of the week. In the most recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 60% of people said they would “definitely or probably” take the vaccine. Only 29% said they would definitely take the vaccine if it were offered to them today.
Back in May, 72% said that they would definitely or probably take the vaccine, and although this shows that the most current number shows a drop of 17% in willingness, it is actually an improvement over the figures from September, when only 51% of people had responded positively.
While an exact threshold is not known, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently that 75% to 85% of the population will need to get the vaccine to stop the spread of the virus.
Why are Americans hesitant?
About three-quarters of Americans (77%) say it is at least somewhat likely that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be approved and used in the U.S. before it’s fully known whether it is safe and effective, including 36% who say this is very likely to happen. Just 22% say this is not too or not at all likely.
Among people who have concerns, the chief reasons for hesitation are issues around side-effects (90%), efficacy (85%), don’t feel they need it (55%), too expensive (32%).
In the United Kingdom, which began vaccinations last week, there’s also skepticism about a vaccine.
An Opinium poll found that 35% of participants said they’re unlikely to get a vaccine, with 48% worrying it will not be safe, 47% worrying it won’t be effective, and 55% worrying it will have side effects, according to The Guardian.
A Morning Consult survey on behalf of National Geographic, conducted November 20–23 found differences in willingness to get vaccinated based on political affiliation, age, and gender.
Age. Willingness to take a vaccine generally increases with age, with people over age 65 in particular willing to take it, according to the surveys. The Morning Consult poll found 68 percent of those who are over age 65 said they would take the vaccine, compared to 54 percent ages 18–34.
Gender. Men are notably more willing than women to say that they will take the vaccine, according to these surveys. For example, 67 percent of men but just 54 percent of women said they would take the vaccine.
Partisanship. Democrats are more willing than Republicans to be vaccinated, per the surveys. 75 percent of Democrats said they would take the vaccine in a Gallup poll, compared to 50 percent of Republicans.
Education. Willingness to take a vaccine generally goes up with education levels too. In a Gallup survey, 68 percent of people with a college degree said they would take a vaccine, compared to 61 percent without a degree.
Federal officials estimate about 40 million vaccines will be available by the end of the month if both Moderna and Pfizer get US Food and Drug Administration authorization — enough to vaccinate 20 million people, because two doses are needed for each person.
The percentage of people who are willing to take the vaccine will certainly increase over time, as healthy doses are administered. Unsurprisingly, people don’t want to be the first. Like with any adoption curve, there will be laggards, but we can expect to see the early majority step forward as soon as doses are available — which for Americans, enough eventually will be.
For more from this series: