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Nearly Half of Unvaccinated Americans Are Willing to Get the Shot, Study Finds

vaccine side effect fears vs. covid fears

Theresa Chiechi / Verywell

Key Takeaways

  • A study shows that while the percentage of unvaccinated but willing individuals has decreased, they still make up about 44% of unvaccinated Americans.
  • Meeting unvaccinated people where they are has been effective in encouraging more people to get the shot.
  • Trusted local messengers can help significantly in persuading unvaccinated individuals.

Nearly half of unvaccinated Americans are willing to get the COVID-19 shot, but barriers still stand in their way, new research finds.

An August study from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) found that the percentage of unvaccinated but willing individuals has decreased from 62% in April to 44% in July to August.

This “unvaccinated but willing” population is the group of unvaccinated people who are unsure about getting the COVID-19 vaccine and are probably or definitely going to get the vaccine when it is available to them. According to the researchers, they may be persuaded to be vaccinated if their reasons for not vaccinating can be addressed by communication or outreach efforts.

Although the percentage of unvaccinated but willing individuals is decreasing over time, they still represent nearly half of the unvaccinated individuals in the United States. Experts say targeted strategies to improve vaccine accessibility and education are necessary to encourage these folks to get their shot.

What's Holding the Unvaccinated Back?

The decreasing percentage of unvaccinated but willing individuals reflects that more people from that group have already been vaccinated, researchers say. However, there are several factors holding back those who remain.

“There is no one reason, but rather, a myriad of challenges or concerns that people may have that keep them from getting vaccinated,” Arjun K. Venkatesh, MD, MBA, MHS, Yale Medicine emergency medicine physician and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Verywell. “Access to vaccination may be challenging if transportation is difficult or if communities lack off-hour appointments for those who work. Non-English speaking individuals may struggle to utilize vaccine scheduling tools and information.”

To help, healthcare institutions and vaccination sites should provide information in multiple languages. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers COVID-19 resources in simplified Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, and more. Having translators or bilingual healthcare professionals is vital in helping individuals through the process of vaccination and addressing their concerns.

“Furthermore, misinformation has continued to overwhelm facts and cause hesitation among the willing,” Venkatesh says. “Simple facts such as that vaccination is free and that studies have proven safety in millions of people need to be amplified.”

Among the unvaccinated but willing population, the common reasons for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine yet are concerns about the side effects and plans to "wait and see." Some also cited their lack of trust in the vaccines and uncertainty about their effectiveness. Improving access to vaccine safety information is crucial in educating more people on how COVID-19 vaccines work.

Getting More People Vaccinated

“People who are unvaccinated but willing may not need as much persuasion as they need ease of vaccination,” Venkatesh says.

Back in July, the Biden administration began implementing several strategies to help unvaccinated individuals get the shot such as sending out mobile clinics, doing more community outreach, and making vaccines available at workplaces and family doctors' offices.

As of late September, more than 3 out of 4 eligible Americans have already been vaccinated with at least one shot, and these strategies likely helped increase vaccination rates.

“The strategies implemented have been targeted largely at improving access as well as getting the facts to populations with the largest vaccination gaps, and while no one of these represents a silver bullet, each likely yields an incremental improvement in vaccination,” Venkatesh says. “The jury is still out on how to beat the misinformation that is pervasive, but I personally hope that some of the recent engagement efforts can counter that.”

According to Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, MD, MBA, U.S. Surgeon General, health misinformation can undermine public health efforts, so it's important to slow the spread of false, inaccurate, or misleading information about the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments can do this by releasing accurate and easy-to-understand health information.

“Decreasing barriers to factual information remains a high priority,” Jorge Moreno, MD, Yale Medicine internist and assistant professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, tells Verywell. “Meeting the patient where they are has been very helpful. Mobile clinics, vaccines at the workplace, primary care offices, and door to door are effective.”

For instance, New Haven, Connecticut has had a strong vaccine campaign employing the help of mobile clinics and door-to-door information. These efforts have effectively increased the city's vaccination rate from about 50% to 67% in a matter of weeks, Moreno adds.

What This Means For You

If you haven't been vaccinated, you can find an available vaccine appointment at vaccines.gov.

Persuading the Unvaccinated

To improve vaccination rates, the government has teamed up with trusted messengers such as faith leaders, community organizers, local doctors, and barber and beauty shops.

“Vaccination is a team effort and the effort should be based on the local needs of the communities,” Moreno says. “The message needs to be clear and consistent at all levels from the top to the local community. Continuing to integrate the help of trusted messengers like community workers, religious leaders, physicians, and local health officials will help the unvaccinated make the decision to get vaccinated.”

When persuading unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated, the most important strategy to employ is empathy, Rupali Limaye, PhD, director of behavioral and implementation science at the International Vaccine Access Center in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, tells Verywell. 

“People that have vaccine concerns just want to be listened to and not dismissed,” Limaye adds. “Compassionate and patient interpersonal communication is critical [and] these one-on-one conversations go a long way. It is important to not correct misperceptions, and to instead pivot the conversation on the disease itself, including the severity of the disease and susceptibility to the disease.”

Taking the time to understand a person’s knowledge, beliefs, and values about the pandemic can help curb misinformation.

“Locally-based, culturally sensitive, and fact-lead initiatives are likely to continue to support progress particularly if they occur alongside employer mandates, local vaccination expectations for major events, and other nudges toward vaccination,” Venkatesh says.

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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5 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. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. Unvaccinated for COVID-19 but Willing: Demographic Factors, Geographic Patterns, and Changes Over Time. Published August 9, 2021.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Multilingual COVID-19 Resources. Updated August 13, 2021.

  3. The White House. Remarks by President Biden on the COVID-⁠19 Response and the Vaccination Program. Published July 6, 2021.

  4. The White House. Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials. Published September 28, 2021.

  5. Office of the Surgeon General. Confronting Health Misinformation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Building a Healthy Information Environment. Published July 15, 2021.