Get on board

“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).       

Yes plus

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%.         

Bottom Line

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. 

4 thoughts on “Get on board

  1. This is an interesting article n shows the impact of combining categories. I have seen n heard numerous uses of the 30 per cent refusal. It is attributed to a survey of Republican males. Apparently the White House has imitated a large campaign focused on those assumed males. Perhaps the money is not needed.

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    1. Yes, actually it’s closer to 50% of Republican males and 35% of female Republicans. While that is a big percentage, Republicans represent only about a third of the electorate. 36% of Independent men also refuse, as do nearly 20% of white college graduates. see NPR-PBS Maris Poll: http://maristpoll.marist.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/NPR_PBS-NewsHour_Marist-Poll_USA-NOS-and-Tables_202103091124.pdf#page=3. Several articles zeroed in on this Republican men group and attributed the cause to Trump — thus pushing Trump to endorse the vaccines – which he did. However, long before Trump, the determinants of vaccine hesitancy were found among conservatives – trust in government lower, trust in science lower, etc. Again, as the vaccine roll-out becomes widespread and more and more people are vaccinated, herd immunity will be reached. At that point, there will still be significant proportions of many different political and social groups that are not vaccinated — just like the flu and to a much lesser extent measles.

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  2. This is good news. It seems like a lot of the news on the vaccines and COVID have been so dire since it started that when it comes to the good (like the widespread availability of several vaccines) we can only see gloom. Ie, the govt roll out of the vaccine is disorganized, poor people (maybe) aren’t getting it, older people are alienated with the online appointment forms, and now White, conservatives will refuse to take it. But the data you present are more nuanced than the headlines that grab people’s attention as they scroll through social media news feeds. Once the questions are examined it is a very different story. (As an aside, I heard an interview with a reporter who commented that she rarely titles her own stories.)

    In a similar vein, I heard a news story on NPR about how employers might compel workers to get vaccinated. And it got me thinking of what govt can do in this case – get as many people possible vaccinated. It got me thinking of “nudges” and how the Biden Admin is trying a voluntary strategy now. I think it is working (from the data you presented). It’s free (although I still had to include my insurance info on the forms), and all the vaccines keep people from getting a severe case of COVID (and dying!). The expert lawyer on NPR speculated that the court will probably say that people are free to choose not to get vaccinated, as they are also free to get fired from a job, and find a job that doesn’t require vaccination.

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    1. Thanks Alex, Yes, the data present a positive story. Consider that only a year ago we just started to grasp what a pandemic is and how to live with it – both people and those that govern. Now, everyday millions more are vaccinated – and compare the distribution here to many Europeans countries and the story remains positive and comparably impressive. I too noticed that some employers are offering monetary incentives for people to vaccinate. The ‘nudges’ you refer to are both from employers, governments but also society generally. People want to move toward ‘normal’ and most recognize (from an individual perspective) that normal includes a vaccine. Not all, of course. And there will be significant populations that may never get the vaccine — localized set backs are likely. But the country’s trajectory is undeniably positive.

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