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1 in 3 Americans Say They May Not Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

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Key Takeaways

  • A study from Ohio State University found that nearly 30% of Americans say they either won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine or they’re unsure if they will.
  • The study found political leanings contribute to vaccine interest.
  • Experts say concerns about vaccine safety, vaccine hesitancy, and vaccine myths may play a role in who opts out.

With nine potential COVID-19 vaccines in Phase 3 clinical trials, vaccines are a hot topic this fall. However, not everyone is interested: A study from Ohio State University (OSU) found that 30% of Americans say they’re either unsure or unwilling to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Busting existing vaccine myths—such as those surrounding the flu shot—can be challenging. Experts say that doing so for a new vaccine is a completely different ball game.

“Right now, COVID-19 is a very political issue,” Brian Labus, PhD, MPH, REHS, assistant professor of public health at the University of Las Vegas School of Public Health, tells Verywell. “And so some people might not believe any of the science that comes out. So that’s another challenge that we’re going to have to face.” 

The Study's Findings

In May, researchers at Ohio State University asked more than 2,000 Americans from all 50 states about whether they would receive a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The cross-sectional survey study, published in the journal Vaccine, found that 69% of respondents were willing to get vaccinated. Of the remaining participants, 17% percent said they were “not sure,” and 14% said they were “probably” or “definitely” not willing. 

“I think we’ve seen that sort of number in other studies, as well,” says Labus, who was not involved with the OSU research. “Roughly 30% of people are not too excited about getting the vaccine.”

A Gallup poll in August showed that 35% of Americans would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—and free.

What Influences Willingness to Vaccinate?

The OSU survey also sheds some light on why someone might be less likely to get a vaccine. Specifically, the researchers found a correlation between participants’ decisions and their political leanings.

Politics

Respondents who identified as conservative reported they were less likely to get a vaccine, whereas those who identified as moderate or liberal said they were more likely to get vaccinated.

Ken Perry, MD, FACEP

There’s really good evidence that vaccines help, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.

— Ken Perry, MD, FACEP

However, recent research from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 62% of Americans are worried that election politics could influence a rush to approve a COVID-19 vaccine before researchers have found that it’s safe and effective.

Among the 62%, Republicans were less concerned about political interference than Democrats or independents.

“There are groups on both sides of the aisle that will tell you that politics are the reason they do not vaccinate,” Ken Perry, MD, FACEP, an emergency physician in Charleston, South Carolina, tells Verywell. “There’s really good evidence that vaccines help, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on.” 

Vaccine History

The near elimination of certain viruses through vaccination might be what’s fueling vaccine hesitancy today—including a reluctance to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

John Patton, PhD, professor of biology and Blatt Chair of Virology at Indiana University, says that people don’t remember—or aren’t aware of—the severity and prevalence of certain illnesses prior to widespread vaccination programs. “To some extent, we’re dealing with the issues of our own success,” he tells Verywell. “There were so many successful vaccines developed in the 50s and 60s and 70s, and even today, that we really don’t see that much disease that we might have seen before.” 

What This Means For You

You may have concerns about getting a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available. Experts say that’s understandable because the vaccine will be new, but you should keep in mind that the data on how safe and effective a vaccine is will be made public.

Talk to your health care provider about the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine when the time comes.

Unwilling vs. Unable

According to the study's findings, only about half (55%) of Black Americans were willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Yet the authors point out that Black Americans have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists several social determinants of health that put racial and ethnic minority groups at a greater risk of getting sick or dying of COVID-19, including occupation, discrimination, and disparities in health care. 

Although the OSU study did not ask participants about barriers to getting a vaccine, factors like lack of accessibility and lack of communication from physicians may play a role. “There’s a difference between being unwilling and being unable,” Labus says.

The type of employment a person has may impact their ability to take time to get a vaccine. Black Americans disproportionately fill frontline industry jobs, where hourly wages rather than salaried pay is often the norm, according to the Center for Economic Policy Research.

“If you have a job that allows you free time off from work to go get a vaccine, that’s going to be important,” Patton says. “On the other hand, if you’re an hourly employee, and you need time to go take this vaccine but you’re not going to get paid, that’s not going to be a particularly good thing.” 

Perry does not know for sure why Black Americans report being less likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but he theorizes a lack of access to a primary care doctor or the insurance to see one could be a factor.

According to the OSU study, a healthcare provider's recommendation was a top influence on an individual's decision to be vaccinated. “A physician recommendation carries a lot of weight with most people,” Labus says. 

Vaccine Safety Concerns

There are many concerns about the safety of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Part of the reason is because it will be a completely new immunization rather than one that's been around for decades. “It’s reasonable to have concerns about the safety of anything you put into your body,” Labus says.

He also makes the point that we don’t have the data yet—but we will. “You’ve got people out there saying they refuse to get [a vaccine], but it doesn’t exist. So they’re arguing against something that has no factual basis. They can’t say it’s unsafe. They can’t say it doesn’t work, because we don’t have a vaccine yet.” 

Labus says he can’t comment specifically on the COVID-19 vaccines in the works, but he says he has trust in the scientific process of vetting a vaccine for safety and efficacy. “They submit all of that information to the FDA,” Labus says in reference to the clinical trial data. “They submit those things for publication, which is available to anybody. Science is a very public thing intentionally so that we can make sure we’re making all the right decisions.”

Vaccine Myths 

Even when and if evidence shows a vaccine is safe, people may still avoid it. Sometimes, that decision is based on widespread myths. As an emergency room physician, Perry says he battles myths surrounding the flu shot this time each year. Similar myths may have an impact on the vaccination rate for the coronavirus. 

Flu Shot Myths

“People assume when they get a vaccine that if they don't feel well for the first 24 to 48 hours, ‘Obviously I had the flu,” he says. “When in reality, what they [experienced] was their body’s immune system mounting a response to that vaccine. All that means is that your body is making antibodies.” 

The flu shot cannot give you the flu, because it is not a live virus.

Another prevalent myth is regarding the flu shot's effectiveness. “Each year we hear about these stories of, ‘it's only 50% efficacious or 75%,” Perry says. “But what we do know is that even though the flu changes year after year, there’s enough genetic stability within the virus itself that getting the vaccine annually has an additive benefit.” 

COVID-19 Vaccine Myths

Myths and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine might differ from those tied to the flu shot. “Those sorts of arguments aren’t going to make sense for a brand new vaccine,” Labus says.

For starters, we may have more than one vaccine to combat the SARS-CoV-2. "My understanding is there won’t be enough of any one [vaccine] to vaccinate everyone," Patton says.

Patton adds that a mid-sized city in the U.S. may have two or three vaccines available, which could lead to additional questions about safety and efficacy. 

The bottom line? “A vaccine is not going to be approved if, to the best of our knowledge, it is unsafe," Labus says. If you have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, talk them through with your healthcare provider.

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Article Sources
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