For a coronavirus vaccine to work, tens of millions of people will have to be convinced to actually get it

will people get the covid vaccine
Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

AstraZeneca’s Nov. 23 announcement of its coronavirus vaccine, combined with the Moderna and Pfizer announcements earlier in the onth, means that three different vaccines could be available to the public in the coming months. But there’s a question that’s emerging which could impact how vaccinations will affect the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: Will people get the COVID vaccine when it’s available?

According to Newsweek, a Gallup poll taken just before the Nov. 3 election revealed that 42% of respondents are unwilling to get the COVID vaccine when it becomes available. The survey found four predominant reasons people had for refusing the potential protection the vaccine might offer:

  • 37% were concerned about the rushed timeline for getting the vaccine to market
  • 26% wanted to confirm the vaccine was safe before taking it
  • 12% don’t trust vaccines generally
  • 10% wanted to wait to see how effective the vaccine was

An additional 15% weighed in with other reasons, including the politicization of the pandemic and the sentiment that vaccines aren’t necessary.

As Newsweek noted, “Health officials face a public that is skittish about the safety of the vaccines they will soon be asked to receive. Convincing millions of people to report to their doctor’s office or pharmacy for an injection of a lab-made genetic substance that has never before been used in a vaccine, and which was rushed from discovery to market in under a year, would not be easy in the best of circumstances—and these, all would agree, are far from the best of circumstances.”

A Washington Post article examining the complex logistics of getting the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to Americans grappled with multiple factors, and how the ultra-cold temperatures the vaccines require and what drive-thru vaccination sites would require. But that article also discussed some Americans’ public attitudes toward the vaccines as a potential obstacle.

Even people working in healthcare expressed hesitancy about whether they will get the COVID vaccine. The article cited a survey of nearly 1,000 employees with Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and of those surveyed (mostly in nursing and administrative roles), about one-third said they would take the vaccine, one-third would not, and one-third would hold off pending how early adopters reacted.

The Post added that “experts who study vaccine hesitancy say promotional campaigns that use social media and increase community engagement with trusted leaders will be key to encouraging use of a new vaccine.” They pointed out that there might be more of a need for this in 2021 to counter rhetoric that came from the Trump Administration over the span of the pandemic. Saad B. Omer, an epidemiologist and infectious-diseases expert who directs the Yale Institute for Global Health and who has extensively studied the political and social factors affecting vaccination, noted in the article that this goes beyond “your run-of-the-mill vaccine hesitancy” into a “mistrust of science.”

A Pew Research Center study done in September, comparing attitudes regarding vaccination to just four months prior, illustrated that hesitancy.

A May survey showed that if a COVID vaccine was available, 42% would definitely take it, 30% would probably take it, 16% would probably not take it, and 11% would definitely not take it.

By September, 30% said they would still probably take it, but only 21% said they would definitely take it. The probably not and definitely not percentages shifting to 25% and 24%, respectively.

Though those who identified as Republican or leaning Republican shifted more against vaccinations, even those identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic moved significantly away from vaccinations. Only 21% were in the probably not or definitely not group in May; that percentage doubled by September.

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Sources: Newsweek, Washington Post, Pew Research Center

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