Have We Reached the COVID-19 Vaccine Plateau?

Survey Results Fielded From Dec. 16 to May 7

COVID illustration

Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell Health

Key Themes From Our Survey

  • Acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine has plateaued and skepticism holds steady.
  • Most people are both excited and nervous about returning to public events.
  • Hesitant parents are the next hurdle to reaching herd immunity.

States and businesses are racing to reopen before summer arrives. While Americans are getting used to the idea of returning to public life, demand for the COVID-19 vaccines continues to stall.

The Verywell Health Vaccine Sentiment Tracker shows that overall acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine has plateaued after steadily climbing since the beginning of the year. Acceptance, defined as willingness to get vaccinated or already having been vaccinated, dipped to 74% in our last survey and now sits at 75%.

With vaccine acceptance stagnating, the U.S. is struggling to reach President Joe Biden's goal of getting at least one vaccine dose to 70% of U.S. adults by July 4. Herd immunity continues to be just out of reach.

Despite the large chunk of the U.S. that remains to be vaccinated, many Americans feel like the pandemic is on a downswing. At least half of our surveyed population now says they feel relatively safe from COVID-19. Those feeling safer aren’t just the fully vaccinated either—47% of those who are not vaccinated do not feel they're at risk for COVID-19. 

More people than ever (33%) now say their lives are only slightly different from before the pandemic. But this return to "normalcy" is stirring up some mixed feelings among Americans.

The data presented in this article is from eleven surveys of 2,000 Americans asked about their thoughts and feelings towards getting the COVID-19 vaccines. We collected the latest data for the week ending on May 7. Our survey sample highlighted four types of respondents based on their answer to whether or not they’d get an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine if it were free and 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
  • Vaccinated: Those who have received a COVID-19 vaccination

The Anxiety of Returning to Normal

Generally, those surveyed are nearly equal parts worried and excited about an overall return to public life. When asked if they’re more worried or excited about being around other people in public, the majority (53%) say they’re both.

Recently-updated mask guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) helped push a return to normalcy along. Fully vaccinated people can now return to everyday life without masks or social distancing, indoors or outside. But these new policies are a leap from previous cautious recommendations. 

This sudden switch-up helps explain conflicted feelings. Many are worried about relying on Americans to follow the honor system. Vaccination verification is a patchwork of different policies across states and there is no plan to enact a system at the national level. Masking guidelines and reopenings have also left immunocompromised people and families with unvaccinated children unclear on what to do next.

Pressure on Parents

The pressure to return to public life leaves parents of unvaccinated children wondering how to navigate the shifting recommendations. As of Monday, May 10, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for use in kids ages 12 through 15, with their parent’s consent. And vaccine trials are underway in children as young as 6 months old.

More parents are now considering getting COVID-19 vaccines for their children. Since our last survey, we’ve seen the number of “undecided” parents—those who aren’t sure if they’d get their children vaccinated—jump by 10 percentage points. Parents are becoming more accepting as the FDA authorizes vaccines for younger ages and as parents get vaccinated themselves.

But fear of side effects is holding some parents back. More than half of the parents surveyed (56%) are now more worried about side effects from the vaccines than COVID (44%).

Though parents have real concerns about side effects, the CDC recommends that everyone eligible should get the vaccine. According to the CDC, the side effects for children are the same as those reported for adults, including:

  • Pain at the injection site
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever
  • Joint pain

Public health leaders anticipated parents' hesitancy and made one crucial change to their vaccine distribution plan: Kids will be able to get the vaccine at their pediatrician's office during their regular appointments. Having a trusted family doctor answer parents' questions regarding the vaccine will help quell some of these fears.

Methodology

The Verywell Vaccine Sentiment Tracker is a biweekly measurement of Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19 and the vaccine. The survey is fielded online every other week. The total sample matches U.S. Census estimates for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region. It consists of 1,000 Americans from December 16, 2020, until February 26, 2020, after which the sample size increased to 2,000 per wave.

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.

Was this page helpful?
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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When You've Been Fully Vaccinated. Updated May 16, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens. Updated May 26, 2021.