1/3 of Americans are hesitant about COVID-19 vaccination

Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine sit ready to be administered at a mass COVID-19 vaccination event on January 30, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Credit: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

More than a third of people nationwide report they are either unlikely or at least hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, a new study shows.

News reports indicate COVID-19 vaccines are not getting out soon enough nor in adequate supplies to most regions, but the new findings suggest a larger underlying problem than shortages.

The results, from public polling of more than 800 English-speaking adults nationwide, appear in the journal Vaccine.

“Our research indicates that vaccine uptake will be suboptimal… with 14.8% of respondents being unlikely to get vaccinated and another 23% unsure,” says lead author Jeanette B. Ruiz, assistant professor of teaching communication at the University of California, Davis.

“Even though vaccination remains one of the most effective public health initiatives, some still doubt the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Unfortunately, the seemingly rushed process of the COVID-19 vaccine may have further fueled these doubts.”

Respondents cited vaccine safety and effectiveness assessments as the primary basis for hesitancy, researchers say.

Politics play a role in vaccination decisions

For the study, researchers compensated participants from the United States through an Internet survey panel of 2.5 million residents developed by a commercial survey firm. Recruitment was based on quota sampling to produce a US census-matched sample representative of the nation, and was representative of the US population in terms of region of residence, sex, and age, but also diverse with regard to all demographic variables assessed.

Researchers measured the respondents’ intention to vaccinate; demographic and health status profile of individuals least likely to vaccinate; general vaccine knowledge and vaccine conspiracy beliefs; and the role that media and partisan politics played in their resistance to vaccination.

The authors indicate that demographic characteristics, vaccine knowledge, perceived vulnerability to COVID-19, risk factors for COVID-19, and politics likely contribute to vaccination hesitancy. The researchers conducted the study relatively early in the pandemic outbreak during two days in June 2020.

Demographic predictors of the likelihood of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine included having an income of $120,000 or higher, or being a Democrat (in comparison to the reference category Republican). The members of three political groups—Democrat, Republican, or Independent—did not differ in their reported vaccine knowledge, however. One fourth of those identifying with no political party reported they were not likely to get vaccinated.

Media had an effect too. Respondents who rely primarily on social media for information about COVID-19 anticipated a lower likelihood of COVID-19 vaccine acceptance. Those reporting getting their information from various other media did not show significant differences in vaccine acceptance, but viewers of Fox News did report being more hesitant than viewers of other broadcast news, the research shows.

The researchers noted that it’s possible that individuals gravitate toward the cable news networks that present a view on the pandemic aligned with their own opinions.

Top 4 reasons for COVID vaccine hesitancy

Media reports have regularly noted that men, adults age 65 and over, and individuals with pre-existing conditions are most vulnerable to COVID-19, and respondents from these groups say they were more likely to accept a future vaccine in this survey. A majority of the least-educated respondents did not expect to get vaccinated against COVID-19, the researchers say.

The top four reasons given for vaccination hesitancy included concerns about vaccine side effects, worries about allergic responses to the vaccine, doubts about vaccine effectiveness, and a preference for developing immunity through infection. Other reasons less frequently cited included being healthy, fear of needles, being immune from past infection, being young, and a lack of concern about developing a serious illness.

“Unfortunately, the health disparities present in the spread and treatment of COVID-19 were reflected in survey participants’ vaccination hesitancy estimations,” the researchers write.

“The pandemic has especially burdened the African American, Latino, and Native American communities, who account for a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Greater likelihood of COVID-19 vaccine acceptance was associated with more knowledge about vaccines, less acceptance of vaccine conspiracies, elevated COVID-19 threat appraisals, and being current with influenza immunization.”

Source: UC Davis