There’s been plenty of progress lately in the hunt for a viable vaccine to protect people from the novel coronavirus. Both the Oxford vaccine and the Moderna version have entered phase three of their clinical trials. Patients receiving both have been shown to produce more antibodies, with the Oxford vaccine additionally leading to an increase in T-cells. Vaccines have also entered the ongoing political debates, with Ed Morrissey recently asking if a successful vaccine could wind up being Donald Trump’s “October surprise.”
Missing from all of the excitement and controversy, however, has been one rather important question. Let’s say that either (or both) of the vaccines are approved by early autumn and quickly go into mass production and distribution. Will people show up at their doctor’s office to receive the shots? Given the number of people dying or being seriously impaired by the disease, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But the results of a recent poll conducted by CBS News may come as a surprise. A significant majority of people said they would not go get the vaccine, or at least not right away. And a measurable subset of those said they had no plans to ever go get it.
Even if a safe and effective vaccine is available by year-end and it was free, a new CBS News poll suggests there may not be takers, at least at first. The poll found that more than two-thirds of Americans, 70%, would either wait to see what happens when others got the shot or would never get one. Fewer than one in three would get the vaccine right away.
Those attitudes were reflected in New Yorkers CBS2 asked on Monday.
“I don’t believe in vaccines. Never took ’em. I never even took a flu vaccine. That’s the way I grew up, I guess. Culturally, it’s the way I am,” one man said.
“Not for me,” one woman said.
I’d assumed that demand for the vaccine wouldn’t be universal, but a 70% initial rejection rate was far more than I’d anticipated. Some percentage of those refusing the idea of getting it are obviously the hard-core anti-vaxxers who have no plans to get a vaccine for anything, so that’s not really relevant to the specific numbers for the coming COVID shot. But that’s still a pretty small percentage of the population. A survey taken just this year showed that 86% of Americans believed vaccines are not more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. That number is down a bit from 2001, however.
For others who either refuse or at least prefer to wait, it may come down to a matter of this being such a new and as-yet unproven development. And some of the early news may have shaken them up a bit as well. Back in May, there were reports of some phase one testing participants becoming sick after getting the vaccine, though they had previously been quite healthy. There were some rumors of one of the first volunteers to test the Oxford vaccine in the UK dying after receiving the treatment, but those were later proven to be false. Still, it probably set off some alarm bells.
Given the uncertainties, you might imagine that the group of people most at risk from COVID-19 would be the least likely to go first, wouldn’t you? And you’d be right. This survey indicated that only 27% of those aged 65 and over would go out and get vaccinated immediately. The vast majority would prefer to stay home and wait to see what happened to all of the guinea pigs who went first. (For the record, you can count me in that group.) Those most likely to go and immediately get vaccinated were the younger, healthier respondents. Breaking it down along political lines, self-identified liberals were twice as likely than conservatives to go first.
But, again, a lot of this has to be caused by the newness of the vaccine. How many people (outside of the anti-vaxxers) do you see waiting or refusing to get a flu shot if they’re in an at-risk group? Not many. But we’re all a lot more familiar with the flu and know it’s coming every winter. Getting a flu shot doesn’t feel like a leap into the unknown.
I’m not sure how much of an impact this widespread hesitancy will have on the overall rate of economic recovery. I mean, how long are people really going to wait? Once a few million people have gotten the shot, assuming bunches of them don’t start showing up sick or dying after a few weeks, most of us will probably decide that it’s time to give it a whirl. And then (fingers crossed) we might finally start getting back to some sense of normalcy.