Most Americans Say They Will Get a Covid-19 Vaccine

Photo: Heather Hazzan/SELF Magazine

Cases of Covid-19 passed 20 million this week and over 164,500 people have died from the infection in the United States. The mad rush to develop, test, and distribute a vaccine is ongoing and high stakes. While there’s no approved vaccine for American use (Russia says it has approved a vaccine, but scientists are skeptical of its safety and effectiveness), there are already questions about whether enough people will get the vaccine to gain population-wide protection. The concerns are valid, but while many headlines have lamented the number of Americans who say they won’t get vaccinated, a closer look at the data reveals a more encouraging story.

Vaccine hesitancy in the United States is higher than it has been in the past, and in some cases, it’s resulted in the spread of preventable diseases like the measles. Productively engaging with people who are hesitant about getting vaccines or vaccinating their children is critical public health work, and should be ongoing. Vaccines are one of the most important tools for keeping people safe and healthy.

While hand wringing over anti-vaxxers is warranted, the reporting on recent data on vaccine sentiments could use some nuance. There’s been much coverage over a recent Gallup Poll survey that found 35% of Americans would not get a free, Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccine if ready today. The poll also found that Republicans are less inclined than Democrats to be vaccinated, and four in 10 non-white Americans would not get a Covid-19 vaccine.

There’s another way to look at the Gallup poll results, which is that 65% of Americans would get a vaccine and that 60% of non-white Americans would also get a vaccine. There are also some really positive trends when you look closer at the dataset: 76% of adults aged 18–29 are willing to get a Covid-19 vaccination, as are 70% of senior citizens. Given the risks of Covid-19 to the elderly, and the fact that recent cases of the virus have been spreading among young people, those are very encouraging numbers.

Yes, having 35% of Americans surveyed say they would not get a vaccine if it was approved today is not ideal. There’s work to be done. But there’s room for empathy in that process. The poll did not look at why some Americans are hesitant. And some hesitancy is normal for a new vaccine that’s being fast-tracked. A vaccine process of this scale hasn’t been done before, and in some cases there’s new technology being used. Recently 400 vaccine experts signed a letter to the head of the FDA urging caution to make sure the vaccine developed is safe and effective and doesn’t cut corners so as not to lose public trust.

As writer Kelsey Osgood recently reported for Elemental, another Associated Press-NORC poll found that 31% of people surveyed said they are not sure whether they’d get the Covid-19 vaccine. “These people are vaccine-hesitant,” writes Osgood. “They’re not as fanatical as the anti-vaccine contingent, but they have concerns, perhaps over efficacy and toxicity, and they aren’t sure who to trust on the issue.” This is where there’s an opportunity for science communicators and pro-vaccine advocates to build that confidence.

There’s time to lay the groundwork to explain the Covid-19 vaccine and why it’s critical for protecting personal health and the health of our loved ones, as well as getting the world to a more stable and recognizable future. The fact is that most Americans want a vaccine and most Americans say they will get a vaccine. I am one of them, and I cannot wait for the day when there is an FDA-approved vaccine for Covid-19.

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that

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