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KFF Launches New COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor to Track the Public’s Confidence in the Vaccine and Experiences for the Duration of the Pandemic

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Republicans and Black Americans are More Likely to Be Hesitant but Even Among These Groups Reasons Vary

KFF has launched a new COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor to dive deeply into the public’s views about the vaccine and experiences getting it for as long as the pandemic lasts.

First results released today show that Americans’ enthusiasm for getting a COVID-19 vaccination varies substantially across groups, with Republicans and Black Americans among those most hesitant.

Overall, 71% of the public says they definitely or probably would get a vaccine, up from 63% in September. Still about a quarter (27%) of the public is vaccine hesitant, saying they probably (12%) or definitely (15%) would not get a COVID-19 vaccination even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists.

Hesitancy remains highest among Republicans (42%), those ages 30-49 (36%), rural residents (35%), and Black adults (35%), a group that has been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Some Black adults are hesitant for reasons that could change with more information. For example: 71% of those who say they won’t get vaccinated say a major reason is that they are worried about possible side effects (which are expected to be mild) and half (50%) say they worry they could get COVID-19 from the vaccine. But nearly as many hesitant Black adults (47%) say they are hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine because they don’t trust vaccines in general.

Among another large group of the hesitant – Republicans – top reasons for not getting vaccinated may be tougher to change, including believing the dangers of COVID-19 have been exaggerated (57% of hesitant Republicans cite this as a major reason), and that they don’t trust the government to ensure a vaccine is safe and effective (56%). Nearly as many (54%) also worry about possible side effects.

“Many who are hesitant are in wait-and-see mode, and their concerns include worries about side effects and whether the vaccine can cause COVID-19, which may dissipate as people get more information and see the vaccine introduced successfully among people they know,” KFF President and CEO Drew Altman said.

The initial Monitor survey identifies four broad categories of enthusiasm for getting a vaccination that pose different messaging challenges:

  • A third of the public (34%) are in the most enthusiastic “as soon as possible” group, who want to get vaccinated as soon as they can. This group is disproportionately made up of Democrats, seniors, white adults, and people with college degrees. Some in this group may become frustrated if they are not among the priority groups receiving early vaccinations.
  • The “wait and see” group is the largest, comprising 39% of the public, and generally want to see how vaccinations work for other people before getting it themselves. This group looks like the public at large, and their willingness to get vaccinated may depend on what they learn during its initial rollout, including news reports about its effectiveness, safety and side effects.
  • The “only if required” group is the smallest, representing 9% of the public, and say they would only get vaccinated if required for work, school or other activities. Most (61%) of this group are essential workers who work outside their homes during the pandemic, a category considered high risk for exposure.
  • The most resistant group, representing 15% of the public, says they would “definitely not” get vaccinated, even if it were deemed safe and available for free. This group is disproportionately made up of Republicans and of people with no more than a high-school level education.

“Many Americans who are hesitant are simply reserving judgment before they are ready to get vaccinated. However, nearly one in four Republicans don’t want to get vaccinated because they don’t believe COVID poses a serious threat,” KFF Executive Vice President Mollyann Brodie said. “It will be a real challenge to undo COVID denialism among this slice of President Trump’s political base.”

Those who are more hesitant to get vaccinated for COVID-19 are also more likely to harbor misconceptions about the pandemic and related public health measures, which may make them less receptive to public health messages generally, including those about the importance of vaccinations.

For example, two-thirds (68%) of the “definitely not” group and more than a third (37%) of the “only if required” group incorrectly believe that wearing a face mask does not protect the wearer from coronavirus. Similarly, more than half (54%) of the “definitely not” group and about three in ten (29%) of the “only if required” group believe that wearing a face mask is harmful to one’s health.

Personal Health Care Providers are the Public’s Most Trusted Sources for Vaccine Information

As with many health topics, the poll finds people’s personal health care providers are at the top of the list as a trusted source of vaccine information, ahead of any national, state, or local messengers.

More than eight in ten (85%) say they trust their own doctor or health care provider to provide reliable information on a COVID-19 vaccine, while about seven in ten also trust national messengers like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (73%), the Food and Drug Administration (70%), and Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci (68%), as well as their local public health department (70%).

Somewhat fewer, but still a majority, put at least a fair amount of trust in their state government officials (58%), President-elect Joe Biden (57%), and pharmaceutical companies (53%), while about a third (34%) say they trust President Trump.

Trust in personal doctors is high among all racial and ethnic groups and across partisan groups. When it comes to government sources of information, however, a much larger share of Democrats than Republicans say they trust such sources to provide reliable information about a COVID-19 vaccine, with independents generally falling in the middle.

The survey suggests the race to develop a vaccine is helping to improve the public’s views of pharmaceutical companies. Most (58%) of the public say that drug companies working on a COVID-19 vaccine are equally interested in the public good and making a profit. That contrasts sharply with the public’s view in July that found the majority of the public (76%) say drug makers generally care mostly about profits.

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the survey was conducted from Nov. 30-Dec. 8 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,676 adults, including oversamples of adults who are Black (390) or Hispanic (298). Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish by landline (391) and cell phone (1,285). The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the full sample. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher.

The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations. Using a combination of surveys and focus groups, this project will track the dynamic nature of public reactions as vaccine development unfolds, including vaccine confidence and hesitancy, trusted messengers and messages, as well as the public’s experiences with vaccination as distribution begins.

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