“Getting people on board will be a tough challenge as about 30% of survey respondents say they won’t be getting a vaccine, even as President Joe Biden aims to have all Americans eligible by May 1.” Bloomberg News, March 23, 2021.
The Bloomberg quote is typical of recent news about Americans’ intention to vaccinate. Most journalists claim somewhere around 30% won’t get a vaccine.
They are wrong. A growing number of Americans are willing to receive a shot or have already got one.
Intent to get vaccinated on the rise
The Pew Center Survey cited by Bloomberg shows that by mid-February, 19% of American adults had received at last one dose of the COVID vaccine. Another 50% said they probably or definitely planned to get vaccinated. Combined, nearly 7 in 10 Americans intended on getting a vaccine or had already done so. Several months before in November 2020, only 60% planned on vaccinations.
More importantly, 30% of the public did not say they won’t be vaccinated – as the Bloomberg article claims. Rather half that, 15%, reported they definitely would not get a vaccine. An additional 15% said they probably would not get a vaccine. The distinction between definitely would not and probably would not is relevant. The Bloomberg piece added the two categories together and inferred a fixed anti-vaxxer attitude.
Moreover the article failed to mention that since September 2020, both vaccine hesitant categories exhibited significant declines. The percentage that said they probably would not get a vaccine dropped 10 points – 25% to 15%. And the percentage that said they definitely would not get a vaccine dipped 9 points from 24% to 15%. The inference should be attitudinal flexibility not rigidity.
The major reason cited for vaccine hesitancy is concern about side effects. Other reasons include the speed of vaccine development, a desire to know more about how vaccines work, a belief that they don’t need a vaccine, and strong opposition to vaccines generally. Comparatively few cited opposition to vaccines – it was last on the list.
Thus, overtime, people learn more about vaccines, they observe others that are vaccinated, their concerns ebb, and views change. Further, an understandable surmise among the millions that contracted COVID-19 is that they are now immune – “a belief they don’t need the shot.”
Despite articles like Bloomberg, there is momentum building. The percentage of vaccine hesitant are declining – even among the most rigid. And, combining those that are vaccine willing – 50%, with those that are already vaccinated, we near the threshold for COVID-19 herd immunity. (A caveat: 17 years of age and under are generally not included in public opinion polls).
For the last several months, a team of pollsters, data scientists, and software engineers called Civiqs tracked Americans’ attitudes toward vaccines. They ask people a straightforward question, “Do you plan to take a coronavirus vaccine if it becomes available? Yes, no, unsure, I have already been vaccinated”.
Let’s add those that replied yes to this question to those who have already been vaccinated and call this group yes plus. On March 26, the yes plus group was 70%, the highest yet recorded – 35% said yes and 35% claimed at least 1 vaccination.
The no and unsure categories exhibit a favorable trend as well. In November 2020, the unsure population was larger than the no group (29% to 26%). Yet when the federal government announced the successful creation of a vaccine, and began distributing it in mid-December, the distribution changed. By March, the unsure group plunged to 8%, a 21 point decrease in 5 months! By comparison, the no group appears stable, though it followed the overall trend and dropped 4%.
According to Nicholas A. Christakis, noted physician, sociologist and author of the best-selling Apollo’s Arrow, COVID-19 will ultimately become endemic, circulating among the population at a low, steady-state level. This is typical of many infectious diseases that have vaccines available – conventional flu and measles, for example. There may be occasional small outbreaks among non-immune people, but a well-vaccinated population prevents widespread transmission and exponential growth in cases.
Christakis estimated herd immunity of COVID-19 at approximately 67% – based on a reproductive rate of 3.0. Right now, the percentage of people willing to receive a vaccine and the percentage that got vaccinated surpass Christakis’s herd immunity estimation. Moreover, the data do not recognize the millions of people – both vaccine willing and hesitant – that acquired natural immunity after getting COVID. In other words, accounting for previous infections, and current vaccinations and intentions to vaccinate, herd immunity may in fact be closer than many claim.
Of course, distributing the vaccine quickly will save more lives. And that appears to be on the mind of President Biden. In a recent primetime address, Biden stated all American adults will be eligible to receive a vaccine by May 1st. Moreover, if all goes well, things will be closer to normal by July 4th.
This should be the story.