As the United States rolls out an ambitious campaign to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, a new study co-authored by a New Mexico State University researcher examines American attitudes toward COVID-19 immunization.
The study, published Jan. 3 in the Journal of Community Health, represents a comprehensive national assessment of COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy among a sample population of more than 1,800 American adults, said Jagdish Khubchandani, public health sciences professor at NMSU.
A total of 1,878 individuals across the U.S. participated in the study, with a majority identifying as female (52 percent), white (74 percent), non-Hispanic (81 percent), married (56 percent), employed full time (68 percent) and college-educated (77 percent).
Fifty-two percent of the participants indicated they were “very likely” to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, according to the study, and 27 percent said they were “somewhat likely” to take the vaccine.
The study found a vaccine hesitancy rate of 22 percent in the participant sample, meaning these individuals indicated they were either “not likely” or “definitely not” going to take the vaccine.
Participants with less education, lower income and who did not perceive a threat of getting infected with COVID-19 were more likely to report that they were “not likely” or “definitely not” going to take vaccine, according to the study. Vaccine hesitancy was higher among African-Americans (34 percent), Hispanics (29 percent), those who had children at home (25 percent), rural dwellers (29 percent) and those who identified as Republicans (29 percent).
“Vaccine hesitancy is not a novel phenomenon in the U.S., the most recent example being of the re-emergence of measles in the years preceding the COVID-19 pandemic,” Khubchandani said. “Unfortunately, we are still facing the same type of challenges.”
The rates of vaccine hesitancy differed significantly based on the “perceived likelihood” of getting infected with COVID-19 over the next year: very likely (10 percent), somewhat likely (19 percent), not likely (27 percent), definitely not (58 percent), indicating that those who did not believe they could be infected, had higher vaccine hesitancy rates.
Similarly, the rates of vaccine hesitancy differed significantly based on “perceived concerns” about getting infected over the next year: very concerned (13 percent), concerned (15 percent), slightly concerned (30 percent), not concerned at all (53 percent), indicating that those who were not concerned about getting infected, had higher vaccine hesitancy rates.
“Our findings show that those who did not believe they could be infected had higher vaccine hesitancy rates,” Khubchandani said. “Likewise, we also discovered that individuals who were not concerned about getting infected had higher vaccine hesitancy rates.”
“When all the study variables were accounted for in the regression analyses,” he added, “the significant final predictors of vaccine hesitancy were: female gender, lower education and income, employment status, having children at home, political affiliation and the perceived threat of getting infected with COVID-19 in the next year.”
Vaccines are only useful, Khubchandani said, if they become vaccinations and lead to mass immunization. To reach levels of reasonable herd immunity, or for successful mass COVID-19 immunization, he said tailored and community-based interventions will be needed to address the risk perception differences along with plans to distribute the vaccine.
“Effective communication on safety and efficacy, along with greater transparency on vaccine development and distribution, including cost aspects, should remain a cornerstone for all other strategies to ensure equitable mass immunization programs related to the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.
To read the study, visit https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10900-020-00958-x.