A patient received an injection earlier this month during Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial. Among poll respondents who say they would not get vaccinated, 7 in 10 cite concerns about safety.
Only about half of Americans say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if the scientists working furiously to create one succeed, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll was released Wednesday, the same day the U.S. surpassed 100,000 deaths from COVID-19.
The virus has infected more than 5.6 million people worldwide and killed over 350,000, with the U.S. having the most confirmed cases and deaths by far, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The 100,000 figure is the best estimate and most assuredly an undercount.
The poll’s number of people saying they would be vaccinated is surprisingly low, considering the effort going into the global race for a vaccine against the coronavirus that has caused a pandemic since first emerging from China late last year.
But more people might eventually roll up their sleeves: The poll found 31% simply weren’t sure if they’d get vaccinated. An additional 1 in 5 said they’d refuse.
Health experts already worry about the whiplash if vaccine promises fail. Only time and science will tell — and the new poll shows the public is indeed skeptical.
“It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “The unexpected looms large and that’s why I think for any of these vaccines, we’re going to need a large safety database to provide the reassurance.”
Among Americans who say they wouldn’t get vaccinated, 7 in 10 worry about safety.
“I am not an anti-vaxxer,” said Melanie Dries, 56, of Colorado Springs, Colo. But “to get a COVID-19 vaccine within a year or two ... causes me to fear that it won’t be widely tested as to side effects.”
Dr. Francis Collins, who directs the National Institutes of Health, insists safety is the top priority. The NIH is creating a master plan for testing the leading COVID-19 vaccine candidates in tens of thousands of people, to prove if they work and also if they’re safe.
“I would not want people to think that we’re cutting corners, because that would be a big mistake. I think this is an effort to try to achieve efficiencies, but not to sacrifice rigor,” Collins said.
Among those who want a vaccine, the poll found protecting themselves, their family and the community are the top reasons.
“I’m definitely going to get it,” said Brandon Grimes, 35, of Austin, Texas. “As a father who takes care of his family, I think ... it’s important for me to get vaccinated as soon as it’s available to better protect my family.”
And about 7 in 10 of those who would get vaccinated say life won’t go back to normal without a vaccine. A site foreman for his family’s construction business, Grimes travels from house to house interacting with different crews, and said some of his co-workers also are looking forward to vaccination to minimize on-the-job risk.
The new coronavirus is most dangerous to older adults and people of any age who have chronic health problems such as diabetes or heart disease. The poll found 67% of people 60 and older say they’d get vaccinated, compared with 40% who are younger.
And death counts suggest black and Hispanic Americans are more vulnerable to COVID-19, because of unequal access to health care and other factors. Yet the poll found just 25% of African Americans and 37% of Hispanics would get a vaccination compared with 56% of whites.
Among people who don’t want a vaccine, about 4 in 10 say they’re concerned about catching COVID-19 from the shot. But most of the leading vaccine candidates don’t contain the coronavirus itself, meaning they can’t cause infection.
Whatever the final statistics show about how often it kills, health specialists agree the new coronavirus appears deadlier than the typical flu. Yet the survey suggests a vaccine would be no more popular than the yearly flu shot.
Political divisions seen over how the country reopens the economy are reflected in desire for a vaccine, too. More than half of Democrats call a vaccine necessary for reopening, compared with about a third of Republicans. While 62% of Democrats would get the vaccine, only 43% of Republicans say the same.
“There’s still a large amount of uncertainty around taking the vaccine,” said Caitlin Oppenheimer, who leads NORC’s public health research. “There is a lot of opportunity to communicate with Americans about the value and the safety of a vaccine.”
The poll of 1,056 adults was conducted May 14-18. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.