Doctors and researchers hope to deliver a coronavirus vaccine to the American public sometime in the first half of 2021, but new poll findings indicate the bigger public health challenge may be convincing skeptical Americans to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine.
A majority of U.S. adults (75%) said in a new LX/Morning Consult poll they’d likely get a coronavirus vaccine, if and when it passes clinical trials. But even as the number of confirmed cases and fatalities continue to climb in America, only 30% of respondents indicated they’d be in a rush to get an FDA-approved vaccine.
One in five respondents said they planned to be among the last Americans to get the vaccine (11%) or they wouldn’t get it at all (9%).
The poll asked each of the 2200 respondents, surveyed online from March 24-25, to explain their answers, with many skeptics citing distrust of vaccine safety, even though there is near-unanimous consensus among doctors and researchers that vaccines are safe and side effects are either minor or rare.
LX broke down common flu shot myths last month, including the beliefs that the influenza vaccine can give you the flu, and that healthy people are better off developing immunity on their own. Yet only 45% of U.S. adults got a flu shot in 2019, and only 37% in 2018, according to the CDC.
Views towards vaccines have declined in the past two decades. In a Gallup poll released this year before the coronavirus outbreak, 84% of Americans said that it was important for parents to get their children vaccinated -- down from 94% in 2001.
The new LX/Morning Consult poll suggests public health officials will have their hands full over the next year or so educating the country ahead of an approved vaccine for COVID-19.
“The data are clear: The benefits far outweigh the risks,” said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “(But) I don't think the public health community does anybody a service to just say (skeptics) don't know any better, and it's important for us to engage with them to help them get to those points.”
Other recurring responses given by vaccine skeptics in the poll included unknown long-term side effects of a new vaccine and distrust of the government. But 66% of respondents agreed with the statement: “a coronavirus vaccine will be more effective than social distancing to control the spread of coronavirus."
A majority of U.S. adults (54%) agreed the benefits of an approved coronavirus vaccine would outweigh the potential side effects, compared to just 20% who said they disagreed. Generation Z adults agreed most strongly (63%), while less than half of Generation X adults agreed (48%). College-educated adults (65%) were also more likely to agree with the statement than those without a college degree (50%).
There were also large splits along gender lines, with 60% of men agreeing that the benefits of an approved coronavirus vaccine would outweigh possible side effects, compared to just 49% of women.
“Vaccines are safe, and if they weren't, I would never recommend kids get them,” said Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a pediatrician at Columbia University. “They really keep the community safe, because kids are often the ones that are carrying diseases around the community. And so it is extremely important to vaccinate.”
On Monday, March 30, Johnson & Johnson announced a promising vaccine candidate would be ready for human trials by September, and possible federal approval by early 2021. Top health experts in March gave a 12-18 month estimate for a vaccine to reach the market in the U.S. because of rigorous FDA clinical standards.
Coronavirus Pandemic Coverage
Should America rush a vaccine to market?
On the concept of skipping traditional clinical trials to get a vaccine to market faster, America leans against it, 47-42%. But the difference in how men and women view vaccines was again evident.
A majority of men indicated they were open to skipping clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine (50% approve, 40% disapprove), while a majority of women opposed the idea (53-35%).
Doctors and U.S. health officials have refused to forego their standard safeguards in order to protect individuals’ health, although Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the U.S. would try to take steps to expedite production and distribution of an approved vaccine.
“If we rush the process and...end up with a (coronavirus) vaccine that is not efficacious or has some sort of adverse event, that could actually undermine the science of vaccines altogether,” said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician and vice chair of the Global Health Committee at the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “That could be devastating.”
Herd immunity won’t come quickly
The best way to eliminate a disease like COVID-19 is to create herd immunity: If nearly everyone in a 'herd' is immune to a disease, there's nobody left to spread it, so it can be eliminated.
“The more people who are protected...either by having had the disease or by being vaccinated against it…(the more people) who can protect us and our loved ones in our communities from the spread of this disease," said Dr. Jay Wolfson, Senior Associate Dean for Health Policy and Practice at the University of South Florida.
Little is known yet about the immunity humans can build up once they recover from COVID-19, so a vaccine would be the preferred immunization route. But the polling results - and current vaccination rates - indicate it won’t be easy to convince all Americans to get the inoculation.
Measles, a disease that was believed to be beaten but is now back, shows why that's problematic. Thanks to wide adoption of the measles vaccine, the United States was declared measles-free in 2000. But as measles vaccination rates have dropped below 92%, the once-eliminated disease has returned.
The invincible generations
Many millennials and Gen X respondents also indicated a lack of concern regarding COVID-19.
“I am very clean/sanitary and have supplies on hand for any potential issues, such as COVID-19, so I would consider myself low-risk to contract this virus,” one millennial explained in the survey.
“People are overreacting,” wrote a Generation X (39-54) respondent.
But public health experts say healthy Americans are key to stopping the diseases that threaten weaker members of the herd.
“We all need to think about not just ourselves, but the community as a whole,” Kuppalli said. “So if you don't want to get the vaccine for yourself, do it for your parents, do it for your grandparents, do it for your friend that might be immuno-compromised with cancer, that could die if they got this infection.”
According to the LX/Morning Consult poll, no generation reported a lower participation in the 2019 flu shot than millennials, who were more than 10 percentage points below the national average.
Should a COVID-19 vaccine be free?
Many poll respondents who showed confidence in vaccines expressed concern about their ability to afford them.
“As much as I’d like to be vaccinated immediately,” wrote one young respondent in the LX/Morning Consult poll, “I am a college student who needs his money.”
An overwhelming majority of U.S. adults (87%) agreed that the coronavirus vaccine should be free to all Americans. And because the Affordable Care Act requires insurance companies to cover the full cost of any federally-recommended vaccines, it’s likely to be available at no charge.
“The expedient approach is just to mandate things and assume people have to fall into line,” Nuzzo said. “But I think we have to win the hearts and minds of people because...the facts and the experience are on (vaccines’) side. We just need to engage with people to the point that they come to that position too.”
Hope for vaccine science
Public health experts say they’re encouraged by the groundbreaking work that could lead to a world-changing vaccine, both for fighting COVID-19, as well as other preventable diseases.
“My hope,” Kuppalli said, “is we come out the other end with an understanding and a respect for vaccines...and that some of the ground that we allowed the anti-vaxx movement to make, is now taken back by science.”
LX is NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations’ new digital news brand and soon-to-launch over-the air and streaming network. LX, or local X, stands for the exponential possibilities of storytelling in our communities. For more information about LX, visit LX.com, subscribe on YouTube and follow on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @NBCLX and #NBCLX.
Morning Consult is a global data intelligence company delivering insights on what people think in real time. By surveying tens of thousands across the globe every single day, Morning Consult is unmatched in scale and speed: It determines the true measure of what people think and how their decisions impact business, politics and the economy. Industry leaders rely on Morning Consult’s proprietary technology and analysis for real-time, intelligent data to transform information into a competitive advantage.