COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among American adults fell by one-third in the first five months of 2021, a new study finds, but distrust of vaccines and the government are still keeping many people from getting vaccinated.
Researchers analyzed data gathered from about 1 million Americans a month between January and May as part of an ongoing national COVID-19 survey. Those who said they would probably not or would definitely not get vaccinated were considered to be vaccine-hesitant.
Who were these people?
In terms of education levels, people with a high school education or less had the largest decrease in vaccine hesitancy during the study period, while hesitancy held constant among those with a PhD, which was the most hesitant group by May.
Vaccine hesitancy fell across nearly all racial groups, with the largest decreases among Black people and Pacific Islanders. By May, they had joined Hispanics and Asians at having lower vaccine hesitancy than white people.
Counties with higher support for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election had higher hesitancy rates, and the difference in hesitancy between areas with high and low Trump support grew over the study period, the findings showed.
"This finding really highlights the politicization of public health recommendations," said study first author Wendy King, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Senior study author Robin Mejia said, "What's concerning is there is a subset of the population that's got strong levels of hesitancy, as in refusal to take the vaccine, not potential concern about it, and the size of that group isn't changing." Mejia is part of special faculty in Carnegie Mellon University's College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
"I remain concerned about reaching the most hesitant subgroup of Americans," she added. "The only way to end this pandemic for real is to get enough people vaccinated that we can reduce the speed of new variants spreading."
Not trusting the vaccine and not trusting the government were common reasons for not getting vaccinated among the most hesitant, while less hesitant people were more likely to say they wanted to wait to see if the vaccines are safe, the researchers said in a University of Pittsburgh news release.
King pointed out that "in all the other levels of vaccine intent we saw change over time. The lack of change in prevalence of the 'definitely not' group implies those with strong feelings about the vaccine are not likely to change easily. Thinking about how to reach that group, and having messaging and incentives that that group will respond to is important."
The findings were published online July 23 on the preprint website medRxiv and have not been peer-reviewed.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 vaccines.
SOURCE: University of Pittsburgh, news release, July 26, 2021