More than a third of people in the US say they are either unlikely or at least hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to them, according to a relatively small new study. This high level of vaccine hesitancy could become a significant hurdle in the effort to curb COVID-19, the researchers argue, but it also highlights the need to better understand this trend and the many complex factors that drive it.
As reported in the journal Vaccine, the study consisted of an online survey of over 800 English-speaking adults from across the US. The research also looked at how different demographic factors, levels of vaccine knowledge, perceived vulnerability to COVID-19, risk factors for COVID-19, and political affiliation contributed to vaccination hesitancy.
“Our research indicates that vaccine uptake will be suboptimal... with 14.8 percent of respondents being unlikely to get vaccinated and another 23 percent unsure,” Jeanette B. Ruiz, assistant professor of teaching communication at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement.
“Even though vaccination remains one of the most effective public health initiatives, some still doubt the efficacy and safety of vaccines. Unfortunately, the seemingly rushed process of the COVID-19 vaccine may have further fueled these doubts.”
The proportion of people who are hesitant about receiving a jab against COVID-19 appears to have increased since the early days of the pandemic when the vaccines hadn't been developed yet. Back in May 2020, a survey of over 4,400 people in the US estimated that around a quarter of people had some hesitancy about potential COVID-19 vaccines.
This study was limited by only having 800 participants, and involving only English-speaking US participants, but it did have some interesting takeaways. Older, white males who were married with a high-income were the most likely to have favorable views towards vaccines. The findings also suggest that Republicans and Fox News viewers were less likely to vaccinate. A majority of the least-educated respondents did not expect to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
African American, Latino, and Native American communities were reportedly less interested in getting vaccinated against COVID-19, despite being some of the hardest-hit subpopulations from the disease. There is a significant historical precedent for this distrust, the study suggests, namely the severe unethical mistreatment of people of color in historical biomedical research and the ongoing racial bias still found in today’s medical treatment.
Some of the main concerns about vaccines were focused around their safety and effectiveness, concerns the researchers say are most likely exacerbated by the perceived “rush” to develop and roll out the vaccine in under a year. Fortunately, there’s demonstrable scientific evidence and information to allay many of these fears.
Although not included in this new study, some people have expressed apprehension about mRNA vaccines, such as the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccine. Not all of the COVID-19 vaccines work in the same way, and these two are the very first of their kind to be approved by a medical regulator. The “newness” of this technology has driven a fair amount of misinformation regarding rRNA, like the idea they work by permanently altering your DNA. Rest assured, however, this is not true.
If you’d like to learn more about the science of vaccines, check out this video of Dr Eric Yager, Associate Professor of Microbiology at the Center for Biopharmaceutical Education & Training, busting some of the most common vaccine myths.
For more information about COVID-19, check out the IFLScience COVID-19 hub where you can follow the current state of the pandemic, the progress of vaccine development, and further insights into the disease.