Vaccine Confidence Rises Alongside a Fourth Wave

Survey Results Fielded From Dec. 16 to Mar. 26

vaccinated woman wearing mask looking at unmasked restaurant goers

Ellen Lindner / Verywell

Key Themes From Our Survey

  • People are feeling more confident about the vaccines and about their rollout.
  • Americans are recognizing that life after COVID vaccination may not be an immediate “return to normal” after all.
  • Variants and lingering questions about what’s safe and what’s not complicate our COVID-19 future.

More than a year after COVID-19 lockdowns started in earnest, Americans are finally coming to grips with the fact that life may not return to normal any time soon. As a potential fourth wave brews thanks to a combination of pandemic fatigue and new SARS-CoV-2 variants, people all around the U.S. are becoming more confident that vaccines are the way out of this pandemic, even if it takes another year. 

The data presented in this article is from eight surveys of 1,000-2,000 Americans asked about their thoughts and feelings towards getting the COVID-19 vaccines. We collected the latest data for the week ending on March 26. 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 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
  • Vaccinated: Those who have received a COVID-19 vaccination

Since December, we’ve been surveying people about how they feel about the COVID-19 vaccines. In that time, we’ve seen confidence in vaccine safety and efficacy grow in fits and starts. Finally, at the end of March, 50% of our survey respondents said they have at least a great deal of confidence that the COVID-19 vaccines will protect them from the virus. This is up from 34% in our first survey in December.

People are also feeling more positive about how the vaccine rollout is going. In the latest survey, about half of our respondents said the rollout is going well or better. It’s objectively true, now, too. More than 3 million people are getting vaccinated each day—the highest rate yet—and 23% of the U.S. population has been fully immunized.

Alongside these increasingly positive sentiments come tempered expectations for life after vaccination. People have faith in the vaccines, but they’re coming to understand they won't magically stop the pandemic. People are increasingly skeptical about how long it will take to return to “the before times.” Seventy-seven percent of our survey respondents predict it will take over six months to return to something resembling pre-pandemic life. Only 15% hold out hope that we’ll return to normal before the summer is over.

Based on our data, there are two primary reasons this might be. First, as vaccine eligibility opens up, people are much more likely to know a vaccine rejector. And second, clear messaging from the government and public health officials about what to expect from this ever-changing virus is finally being heard.

Everybody Knows Somebody Who Won’t Get The Vaccine

While 73% of our surveyed respondents have gotten vaccinated or are planning to, 27% are undecided or have decided not to get vaccinated. While these portions of our surveyed audience have shrunk since we started tracking them, they’re still prominent in some circles:

  • Young rejectors—Millennials and Gen Z—are more likely to hesitate or reject the COVID-19 vaccines due to a fear of side effects. 
  • Black and Brown communities have lower vaccine acceptance rates than white communities, but this is more likely due to a lack of access, information, and mixed messaging. 
  • Rural Americans are nearly twice as likely as their suburban and urban counterparts to be vaccine-hesitant.

Throughout our surveys, we’ve asked participants if people they know are getting the vaccine. In the month of March, 57% of our respondents said they'd heard of people not signing up for the vaccine (up 14 percentage points from January). And 35% of our respondents said they have friends or family who’ve refused the vaccine (up 5 percentage points from January). 

Heeding the Government's Message: Proceed With Caution

Trust in the government has steadily risen since the end of 2020. So far this year, the Biden administration and public health officials have driven home the message that these vaccines are not a get-out-of-jail-free card. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, routinely reiterates the importance of continued mask-wearing and distancing, even as states have eased up on business restrictions, stay-at-home orders, and in some areas, mask mandates. 

Accordingly, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasize people must still take certain precautions after they're fully immunized, or at least two weeks out of their final dose. Some of these precautions include:

  • Wearing masks and practicing physical distancing in public
  • Wearing masks and practicing physical distancing when visiting with unvaccinated people who are at increased risk for severe COVID-19
  • Wearing masks and practicing physical distancing in public when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households
  • Avoiding medium and large gatherings
  • Getting tested if COVID-19 symptoms occur

There are still many unknowns about how long vaccine-induced immunity to COVID-19 will last and how variants will interfere with vaccine effectiveness. Our survey is starting to show Americans are aware that anything related to "back to normal" is a big question mark. But they know vaccines are a major part of the solution.

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, and 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.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people. Updated April 2, 2021.