One Month Into the Rollout, Here's How Americans Feel About COVID-19 Vaccines

Surveys Fielded From Dec. 16 to Jan. 19

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Laura Porter / Verywell

Key Themes From Our Survey

  • People are hearing about their friends and family getting vaccinated. Those who know someone who has gotten the vaccine are more likely to want to be vaccinated themselves.
  • COVID fatigue leads to less news consumption, so most still don’t know much about the actual vaccines, leaving the door open for misinformation.
  • Healthcare workers in your social circle wield influence, but be careful of conflating their decisions with your own.

As the administration has turned over, we’ve seen a flurry of announcements about distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible. But are the right people sending the right messages? 

In Verywell Health’s latest vaccine sentiment survey, it’s clear that people still need information about vaccine safety and side effects, and that assurance needs to come from healthcare professionals. 

The data presented in this article is from three surveys of 1,000 Americans, the most recent responses collected on January 19. We asked about their thoughts and feelings towards getting the COVID-19 vaccines. The survey sample highlighted three types of respondents based on their answer to whether or not they’d get an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine if it were freely available: 

  • Acceptors: Those who would agree to be vaccinated
  • Rejectors: Those who would not agree to take a vaccine
  • Undecideds: Those who don’t know if they would take a vaccine

Generally, we haven't seen a change in how people feel about taking the vaccine since our last survey in December. There’s a clear desire from many to get their dose as quickly as possible, especially if they know a vaccinated person. But for others, it’s still a big question mark.

Only around half of our respondents—who have not had the vaccine themselves—would say yes to the vaccine, which is on par with the last two surveys. But at 32%, slightly more respondents now say they're opposed to the vaccine, compared to 27% after our first survey.

What's behind this increased opposition? We already know that both vaccine rejection and hesitancy are fueled by concern about side effects and whether or not the vaccines are effective. And recent news events drive these concerns home. People may be worried about vaccine effectiveness in the face of the new strains of the virus. Or maybe they hear about low efficacy in trials of new vaccines, vaccinated people getting sick, or healthcare workers refusing their doses. It could be a combination of hearing all of this muddled news via family and friends—which our respondents are definitely doing.

Understanding why some people are saying they won’t or may not take a vaccine is essential. If too few people get vaccinated, COVID-19 will continue spreading, potentially giving rise to more dangerous variants, as we’ve seen over the last few months.

Friends and Family Are Starting To Get Vaccinated

About a third (36%) of our study respondents now know someone who’s received the vaccine, 60% do not, and 4% say they aren’t sure. Sixty-one percent of the respondents who know a vaccinated person say they’d get vaccinated themselves. But only 46% of those who don’t personally know a vaccinated person say they will.

Knowing someone who has gotten the shot is also linked to decreased concern about side effects and vaccine efficacy. Forty percent of those who know a vaccinated person are not worried about side effects, compared to 31% of those who don’t know anyone. Forty-eight percent of those who know someone who has gotten the vaccine are confident it will protect them, but that number is just 28% for those who don’t know anyone.

Americans Don't Know Vaccine Specifics

Despite knowing people who've gotten vaccinated, our respondents don't know very much about the different COVID-19 vaccines. While most people (78%) say they’ve heard about vaccine updates lately, they don’t know the names of the vaccine manufacturers.

When we separate out those who are willing to take the vaccine, though, we see people in this group are much more likely to say they know about the different brands: 29% of acceptors say they’re familiar with the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine—three times as many as rejectors and undecideds (both 10%).

Why don’t people know more about the COVID-19 vaccines? After all, we’re collectively talking about the pandemic more. According to our most recent surveys, friends and family are bringing up COVID-19 news more often than before. During the week of Dec. 14, 30% of respondents reported their friends and family bring up COVID-19 news. As of January, that figure has increased to 36%.

Maybe we’re mainly discussing how "over it" we are. We’re hitting a COVID fatigue wall—unable to process the numbers and scope of this tragedy, even in small bites of viral headlines shared by friends on Facebook. (Yes, social media is on track to overtake TV as the primary source of COVID-19 news.) We see these headlines, but we’re engaging less. We think we’re informed, but we’re just getting pieces of the news, leaving us open for rumors and misinformation. 

Because people don't have a say in which vaccine they’ll eventually receive, they may not want to bother learning about the different versions or the latest clinical trial results—almost all of which are extremely good. People may simply wish to place their trust in their doctor. 

Healthcare Workers Carry the Most Influence

When it comes to fighting misinformation, there's one group that holds a lot of weight. Based on our survey, healthcare workers are the most influential group for Americans trying to decide whether or not to take the vaccine. Friends and family are next, followed by government officials, community members, religious figures, social media influencers, and celebrities.

Healthcare workers are twice as likely to be considered important as federal government officials and local officials in the decision to get vaccinated.

Technically, the healthcare workers referenced in our survey include everyone from doctors and nurses to aides, helpers, laboratory technicians, or even medical waste handlers. So, these findings don’t mean that everyone’s asking their family doctor—or a patient-facing doctor, for that matter—for advice.

This matters because of stories of healthcare workers refusing vaccinations. Hearing negative things about COVID-19 vaccines from people who work in the health field harms others' desire to be vaccinated. But as a recent study preprint shows, many healthcare workers who don't plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine are those that don’t work directly with patients. Most physicians and residents have high confidence in the vaccine.

What This Means For You

Your healthcare worker friend is not your doctor. Ask them if they’re getting the vaccine, why or why not, and take their decision with a grain of salt. If you have one, talk to your own doctor about your vaccination decision. Based on your health history, they’ll be aware of any reasons you might not be able to get a shot.

Implications of Vaccine Refusal

Viral stories of vaccine refusal can have a negative effect. Our survey respondents who have heard of someone refusing the vaccine are more likely to be concerned about vaccine side effects and effectiveness. Fifty-three percent of those who have heard of someone refusing the vaccine are worried about side effects, compared to 36% of those who haven’t.

They’re also more likely to doubt the effectiveness of the vaccine. Thirty-nine percent of those who have heard of someone refusing the vaccine have little confidence in its efficacy, versus 26% of those who haven’t.

Based on the available safety information, there are several valid criteria that may cause people to decide against or be advised against vaccination:

  • A severe allergy or potential allergy to any of the ingredients
  • Severe illness
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding, as data is lacking in these group
  • An active COVID-19 infection or infection within the last 90 days

Looking Ahead: A Focus on Empowerment & Education

Acknowledging the influence that healthcare workers wield among the public, the Biden administration plans to defer to their expertise as the country presses on in the vaccine rollout. Notably, Biden plans to rely on public health experts, doctors, nurses, as well as community leaders and advocacy groups to host town halls, roundtables, and other events to educate the public on COVID-19, and specifically vaccine hesitancy. 

Fighting this vaccine misinformation is everyone’s job. One of the biggest hurdles to getting the vaccine into arms is making sure everyone knows why it’s important and how it works. There’s an essential role for governments and local community organizations to help educate the public on the vaccines and their benefits—as well as when people are eligible to receive them. But it’s also important for friends, neighbors, and community health workers to speak up and spread the word about their own vaccine experiences. The more people you know who've gotten vaccinated, the more comfortable with it you'll be.

A Word From Verywell

Vaccination is a touchy subject for some, but vaccines are generally accepted as safe for most people and play a significant role in keeping infectious diseases down in our society. 

If you decide to get vaccinated, do it as soon as you can, share the news that you got vaccinated with your friends and family, and tell them about your experience and why you decided to do it. 

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine won't just save you some sick days. Each vaccine, when taken together, protects many more lives. Staying abreast of this positive information can help encourage people to get vaccinated. 

Methodology

The Verywell Vaccine Sentiment Tracker is a bi-weekly measurement of Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19 and the vaccine. The survey is fielded online, every other week beginning December 16, 2020 to 1,000 American adults. The total sample matches U.S. Census estimates for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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