More than half of unvaccinated Americans think COVID-19 shots are more dangerous than the virus, according to a new poll out Wednesday.
That belief is wrong. The virus has already killed more than 600,000 Americans. And it’s killing more every day.
Even so, a significant portion of Americans remain wary. Wednesday’s polling report helps explain why, especially when it comes to those who seem dead-set against getting the vaccine.
The report comes from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor project, which has been tracking public perceptions and experiences with the vaccine since December, when the first shots became available. And there’s certainly been a lot of progress since then.
As of July 27, when Kaiser researchers finished their latest round of questions, 67% of adults said they had gotten vaccinated or would get the shots as soon as they could. That’s consistent with official statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which this week reported that 70% of adults had gotten at least one shot.
One reason the vaccination number keeps going up is that the ranks of Americans who describe themselves as undecided ― the ones who say they will “wait and see” how the shots perform ― has shrunk dramatically, from 39% in December to just 10% now.
Maybe it’s seeing friends and families get the shots, with only sporadic or mild side effects. Maybe it’s hearing about vaccine safety and efficacy from people they trust. Maybe it’s fear of the delta variant, which spreads more easily than its predecessors.
Whatever the reason, many of these people are finally deciding to get the shots.
But the number of Americans who say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine basically hasn’t budged.
It was 15% in December. It’s 14% now.
Behind that determination are a set of convictions at odds with reality. Nine in 10 say are not worried they will get seriously ill, according to the Kaiser poll, and three-quarters believe the shots are more hazardous than the disease.
As to why this group holds these beliefs, their demographics offer some clues: 65% are white adults and 58% describe themselves as Republican or Republican-leaning.
This is the same group that gets information predominantly from right-wing media sources ― some on television, some on social media ― that have questioned the severity of the pandemic and, at times, the usefulness of the vaccine.
It’s a different story with the “wait and see” group, who are less likely to be Republicans and more likely to be people of color ― and who represent the population most likely to respond to ongoing outreach and education efforts.
“There are really two groups of unvaccinated Americans,” Ashley Kirzinger, associate director for the foundation’s public opinion research group, told HuffPost.
Of course, there’s still a lot of diversity within the groups, as Kirzinger noted.
The “wait and see” group includes plenty of white Republicans, just as the “definitely not” group includes some Democrats and people of color. Some people are reluctant to get the vaccines because they think, wrongly, it will cost them money ― or because they’re afraid of losing time at work.
And just in the past week, after the Kaiser pollsters ended this month’s fieldwork, the nationwide vaccine rate has started to pick up again. The acceleration has been especially notable in parts of the country now seeing case spikes, which correspond closely to areas with low vaccination rates.
Some might be responding to new vaccine requirements that governments, employers, health systems and universities are putting in place. Others may be changing their minds because of the increased suffering among their neighbors and in their communities.
In other words, people in the “wait and see” category may have decided there’s no point in waiting any longer, because they have seen enough.
Either way, it’s progress of a sort ― and something to watch for in next month’s poll.
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