Half Of Americans Say They’ll Take a COVID-19 Vaccine—Here’s What The Other Half Thinks

Survey Results Fielded From Dec. 16 to Dec. 20, 2020

illustration of people in line for a vaccine

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As manufacturers produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines over the next several months, Americans have a big choice: Will they take the vaccine when offered? 

Most think the decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine is a simple yes or no in consultation with a doctor. But in a survey of 1,000 Americans in December, Verywell found that people’s feelings on the vaccines are varied and influenced by a variety of sources, from their family, friends, and news consumption to their financial situation and more. 

Fifty-three percent of respondents to the survey say they would take a free COVID-19 vaccine when offered. However, 20% don’t know if they would and 27% say they definitely wouldn’t.

It is essential to understand why some people are saying they won’t or may not take a vaccine. If too few people get vaccinated, COVID-19 will continue spreading, straining the healthcare system and necessitating regional lockdowns and their economic fallout.

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.

Verywell will survey people every two weeks to understand how these feelings change over time as vaccines become more prevalent. In the coming weeks, we’ll watch how these themes and trends progress, and we’ll walk you through them. At this point in time, the most popular reason to get a COVID-19 vaccine is a return to normalcy, and the most common reason not to get a vaccine involves a fear of side effects. 

Side Effects Are the Top Concern—And Social Media Isn’t Helping

Regardless of whether or not they currently plan to get a vaccine, survey respondents—63% of them—are at least somewhat concerned about side effects. More women (53%) are concerned than men (34%). 

Side effect concerns are most prevalent among those who aren’t sure if they’ll even take the vaccine (86%), with people flat-out opposed to the vaccine not far behind (78%). 

While the currently-available vaccines were developed and distributed at a record-setting pace, report after report emphasizes safety wasn’t sacrificed along the way. In addition to ongoing clinical trials, each vaccine was also subject to a review from a panel of scientists who are independent of their manufacturers. As a result, so far, most side effects are mild, including pain and redness at the injection site, headache, and body aches. 

But clinical trial data isn’t as compelling or as far-reaching as social media posts from groups who oppose vaccines. A May study of over 1,300 Facebook anti-vaccination pages followed by 85 million people shows those pages are more frequently linked to than pro-vaccine content. And anti-vax pages demonstrate a strong ability to keep those who are undecided about vaccines highly-engaged. The reason? More “potentially attractive narratives,” study authors say, ranging from conspiracy theories to safety concerns. 

Those narratives may be striking a chord with some of our survey participants. Social media is the biggest driver of COVID-19 vaccine information among respondents who said they will not get a shot. In fact, 63% say they learn about COVID-19 from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, compared to only 43% of those who will actually get the vaccine. 

On the other hand, 50% of those who plan to vaccinate say they see COVID-19 information in online or print news sources, versus just 38% of those who don’t plan to vaccinate. Across the board, however, respondents are getting most of their COVID-19 updates from TV news.  

30% of those surveyed get at least some of their COVID-19 news from friends and family.

Friends and Family Can Change People's Minds

Research shows that feelings on vaccines are generally impacted by both what we watch and read as well as the people we surround ourselves with —and our survey bears this out:

  • 89% of those who plan to get a vaccine think at least some of their friends and family will agree to be vaccinated.
  • 41% of those opposed to the shot say that none of their friends and family will agree to be vaccinated, compared to only 3% of vaccine acceptors and 6% of the undecided group.
  • 46% of undecided survey respondents say they don’t know if their friends and family will get vaccinated. Comparatively, just 20% of vaccine rejectors and 8% of acceptors say they don’t know where their friends and family stand. 

At this time, respondents fall in line with what they expect their loved ones are thinking and doing. But some of their other survey responses suggest more open-mindedness in the future. For example, a third of those who are undecided about the vaccine say they'd feel optimistic if their loved ones chose to get vaccinated. And while 33% of those who reject the vaccine say they'd feel scared if loved ones got the shot, another 22% report they'd feel curious about it themselves.

It's likely people will become more accepting of the COVID-19 vaccine as more people they know receive it. Hearing about the experiences of others should help eliminate much of the fear of the unknown, especially if serious side effect rates remain low. Pfizer has reported just 21 incidents of anaphylaxis reactions out of 2 million vaccines administered, and each person recovered.

The Biggest Difference Between Undecideds and Rejectors

At this stage of the vaccine rollout, those opposed and those on the fence are fairly aligned on their reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated. But what really separates those who won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine from those who aren’t sure is a lack of confidence in vaccines in general. Twenty-three percent of those who don’t plan to get vaccinated cited a mistrust of all vaccines, compared to 7% of those who are uncertain about getting vaccinated. 

This anti-vaccine stance is by no means a trait in all respondents who don’t plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, in particular. But this statistic illustrates that about a quarter of the rejector group is likely anti-vaccine.

Just like Verywell’s results, a Harvard analysis of two national surveys published in the fall of 2020 shows a quarter of respondents would refuse a COVID-19 vaccine, and a mistrust of science was a driving factor for 22% of that group. These numbers, according to the analysis, are dangerously large enough to disrupt the path to herd immunity—the amount of the population that needs to be vaccinated to contain the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable groups.

There will always be a portion of the population who can’t take a vaccine (for instance, those allergic to the components) and whose health will rely on herd immunity from people who are vaccinated. Ensuring as many people take the vaccine as possible helps protect everyone.

Socioeconomic Factors Deepen the Divide

While the majority of respondents (70%) say their day-to-day life is at least somewhat different now compared to before the pandemic, only 35% of those who don’t plan to get the vaccine feel this way. They’re more likely than the undecided respondents to say that they don’t know anyone who’s tested positive for COVID-19, and only 34% say they are worried about COVID-19—much less than other groups.

But this group may have more immediate things to worry about. Thirty-five percent say they’re concerned about putting food on the table, compared to 15% of those who plan to get the vaccine. Over half of those who don’t plan to vaccinate (60%) and those who are undecided (57%) have a household income of under $50,000 a year; only 45% of people who plan to vaccinate fall into that income bracket.

Those who won’t get the vaccine are three times as likely to be uninsured as those who do plan to get it.

Though the COVID-19 vaccine will be provided at no cost, it’s possible that other costs—be it time cost to get the vaccine, especially in rural areas, or loss of job productivity from side effects—could be driving the hesitancy or rejection of vaccination, especially for those who don’t think COVID-19 is a big deal.

A Word From Verywell

The general U.S. population’s feelings about COVID-19 vaccines are varied and wide-ranging. The goal of this survey is to monitor how these trends develop over the next several weeks and months, as the vaccines roll out and the pandemic progresses, and to get a greater understanding of what’s fueling these vaccine-related decisions. 

COVID-19 has stressed and strained most of us to some extent. Understanding each other a little better, being a bit more empathetic to our neighbors’ thoughts and feelings, and working together will help us all get through the next several months.

Methodology

Verywell conducted the above research as an online survey, fielded to 1,000 adults living in the U.S. from December 16 to December 20, 2020. Demographics were as follows:

  • Gender: 48% Male, 51% Female, 0% Nonbinary or an identity not listed
  • Age: 10% Gen Z, 31% Millennials, 18% Gen X, 31% Boomers, 11% Silent
  • Region: 24% West, 38% South, 17% Northeast, 21% Midwest
  • Location: 34% Urban, 46% Suburban, 20% Rural
  • Race/Ethnicity: 65% White, 15% Black or African American, 19% Hispanic/Latino or Latinx, 6% Asian, 1% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 1% American Indian or Alaska Native, 1% Another background not mentioned
  • Politics: 40% Democrat, 28% Republican, 25% Independent, 7% Other/Prefer not to say

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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