US confidence in Covid-19 vaccines rising, but pockets of resistance remain, survey shows

By now, roughly 61 per cent of adults have either received their first dose or are eager for one. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - As eligibility for Covid-19 vaccination rapidly expands to all adults in many states over the next month, a new poll shows a continuing increase in the number of Americans, particularly Black adults, who want to get vaccinated.

But it also found that vaccine scepticism remains stubbornly persistent, particularly among Republicans and white evangelical Christians, an issue that the Biden administration has flagged as an impediment to achieving herd immunity and a return to normal life.

By now, roughly 61 per cent of adults have either received their first dose or are eager for one, up from 47 per cent in January, according to the latest monthly survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The shift was most striking among Black Americans, some of whom have previously expressed hesitancy but who have also had access issues.

Since February, 14 per cent more Black adults said they wanted or had already gotten the vaccine. Overall, Black adults, who have also been on the receiving end of vigorous promotional campaigns by celebrities, local Black physicians, clergy members and public health officials, now want the vaccine in numbers almost comparable to other leading demographic groups: 55 per cent, compared with 61 per cent for Latinos and 64 per cent for white people.

The Biden administration has made equity a focus of its pandemic response and has added mass vaccination sites in several underserved communities. In early March, a New York Times analysis of state-reported race and ethnicity information showed that the vaccination rate for Black people in the United States was half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people was even larger.

Dr Reed Tuckson, a founder of the Black Coalition Against Covid, hailed the increasing acceptance rates but noted that practical problems still get in the way of uptake.

"The data, and our anecdotal feedback, are encouraging and further support the need for equitable distribution and easy-to-access vaccination sites that are led by trustworthy organisations," he said. "The system needs to support those choices by making the right thing to do the easy thing to do."

Overall, the poll found that the so-called "wait-and-see" group - people who have yet to make up their mind - is shrinking commensurately, now at 17 per cent, down from 31 per cent in January. The seven-day average of vaccines administered hit 2.77 million on Tuesday, an increase over the pace the previous week, according to data reported by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey was taken March 15-March 22, among a random sample of 1,862 adults.

Despite the progress, 20 per cent of adults say they would either definitely refuse the shot or only be vaccinated if required by their job or school. A number of employers and institutions are considering imposing such a requirement. Last week, Rutgers University became the first large academic institution to require students this fall to get the vaccine (with exemptions for some medical or religious reasons).

The people most likely to firmly oppose being vaccinated identify as Republicans (29 per cent) or as white evangelical Christians (28 per cent). In contrast, only 10 per cent of Black adults said they would definitely not get it.

According to the Kaiser survey as well as other polls, Republicans have budged little in their views on vaccine acceptance in recent months, although they were more open last fall, before the November presidential election. The partisan divide over the Covid-19 shots is wide, with just 46 per cent of Republicans saying they have received at least one shot or want to get it, compared with 79 per cent of Democrats.

No group is monolithic in its reasons to oppose or accept the vaccines. Those who are sceptical say they mistrust the government generally and are apprehensive about the speed of the vaccine's development. Awash in online misinformation, many cling to a fast-spreading myth - that tracker microchips are embedded in the shots.

For rural residents, access to the vaccine is so problematic that they see the logistics and travel time involved as simply not worth it.

With so many reasons cited to avoid the vaccine, crafting messages to coax vaccine confidence can be difficult. But the latest Kaiser report identified some approaches that seem to be successful in moving people to consider the shots.

At least two-thirds of the so-called wait-and-see group said they would be persuaded by the message that the vaccines are "nearly 100 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation and death from Covid-19." Other strong messages included information that the new vaccines are based on 20-year-old technology, that the vaccine trials included a broad diversity of candidates, and that the vaccines are free.

The survey also noted that many people who are hesitant would be amenable to certain incentives. As the country begins to open up and on-site work returns, the role of the employer in vaccination is becoming increasingly pertinent.

A quarter of those who are hesitant and have a job said that they would get the shot if their employer arranged for workplace vaccination. Nearly as many would agree if their employers gave them financial incentives ranging from US$50 to US$200 (S$67-S$269).

But overall, the strong growth in adults who have either gotten one dose of the vaccine or are inclined to get it is most likely because of their increasing familiarity with the notion. Surveys show that as they begin to know more friends and relatives who have gotten the shot, they can more readily imagine getting it themselves.

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