KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: May 2021


The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor is an ongoing research project tracking the public’s attitudes and experiences with COVID-19 vaccinations. Using a combination of surveys and qualitative research, this project tracks the dynamic nature of public opinion as vaccine development and distribution unfold, including vaccine confidence and acceptance, information needs, trusted messengers and messages, as well as the public’s experiences with vaccination.

Key Findings

  • The latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor shows continued steady progress in vaccine uptake, with 62% of U.S. adults saying they’ve gotten at least one dose of a vaccine (up from 56% in April) and the share saying they will “wait and see” down slightly from 15% to 12%. This leaves few remaining eager to get vaccinated, while the shares saying they will get vaccinated “only if required” (7%) or will “definitely not” get a vaccine (13%) essentially unchanged over the last several months. Yet findings also suggest the overall adult vaccination rates could reach 70% over the next several months, with 4% saying they want the vaccine as soon as possible and about a third of the “wait and see group” (or 4% of all adults) saying they have already scheduled an appointment or plan to get the vaccine in the next 3 months.
  • One potential avenue for further increasing vaccine uptake is full FDA approval of one of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use, with about one-third (32%) of unvaccinated adults saying such approval would make them more likely to get vaccinated. In addition, one in five (21%) employed adults who have not gotten a vaccine say they would be more inclined to do so if their employer gave them paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from side effects. Certain financial incentives may also motivate small shares (between 10-15%) of the unvaccinated to get a vaccine. Such incentives, including free transportation from ride share companies, lead larger shares of Hispanic and Black adults as well as those with lower incomes to say they would get vaccinated, suggesting incentives could play a role in further decreasing racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in vaccination rates.
  • Over four in ten adults (43%) say that CDC guidance on the types of activities that vaccinated and unvaccinated people can safely engage in is confusing and hard to follow, a share is similar among vaccinated and unvaccinated adults but rises to 56% among Republicans. The vast majority of those who have not been vaccinated say the new CDC guidelines stating that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing in most situations does not make a difference in their own decision about whether to get vaccinated.
  • Among parents of adolescents ages 12-17, four in ten (41%) say their child has already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or they will get them vaccinated right away. Parents of younger children under age 12 are more cautious, with about a quarter saying they will get their young child vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is authorized for their age group and one-third saying they will take a “wait and see” approach.

Trends In COVID-19 Vaccination Intentions

While the share of U.S. adults who report receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine has continued to climb from 56% in April to 62% in May, the share who say they intend to get the vaccine as soon as possible fell to just 4%, leaving a very small group that is ready to get vaccinated right away. At the same time, the share who say they want to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated inched downward from 15% to 12% over the past month, while the shares saying they will get a vaccine “only if required” for work or other activities, or will “definitely not” get vaccinated remain essentially unchanged since January.

Within most demographic subgroups of the population, there was an uptick between March and April in the share saying they have received a vaccine and a decrease in the share who say they have not gotten the vaccine but want it right away. The increase in self-reported vaccination rates between April and May was notable among Hispanic adults (from 47% to 57%) and those without college degrees (from 48% to 55%), two groups for whom vaccine uptake has lagged behind others. 

Percent who report receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine April 2021 May 2021 Change (percentage points)
Total adults 56% 62% +6
Race/ethnicity
Black 51% 56% +5
Hispanic 47% 57% +10
White 60% 65% +5
Education
No college degree 48% 55% +7
College graduates 75% 77% +2
Gender
Women 57% 64% +7
Men 54% 59% +5
Age
18-29 40% 48% +8
30-49 48% 51% +3
50-64 63% 69% +6
65+ 76% 83% +7

This leaves a picture that is very similar to April, with at least half of adults in almost every demographic group saying they’ve gotten at least one dose of a vaccine, including large majorities of older adults, those with serious health conditions, college graduates, and Democrats. Younger adults and Black adults remain disproportionately likely to say they will wait and see before getting a vaccine, while Republicans, rural residents, and White Evangelical Christians are disproportionately likely to say they will definitely not get vaccinated. Notably, after increasing somewhat last month, vaccine enthusiasm seems to have stalled among Republicans, with about half (49%) saying they’ve gotten at least one dose of the vaccine (statistically similar to the 52% who said so last month) and 27% saying they will definitely not get vaccinated.

How Long Will the “Wait and See” Keep Waiting?

While few who are eager remain unvaccinated, the Monitor does provide some indication that vaccination rates could continue to increase over the next few months. In addition to the remaining 4% of all adults who say they have not been vaccinated but plan to do so as soon as they can, about a third of those in the “wait and see” group (4% of all adults) say they either already have a vaccine appointment scheduled or that they will wait 3 months or less before getting vaccinated, suggesting the possibility that the adult vaccination rate could surpass 70% this summer. Still, over four in ten of those in the “wait and see” group say they intend to wait more than 6 months to get a vaccine, including one third who plan to wait more than a year.

What Else Might Encourage Vaccine Uptake?

Among various incentives tested in this month’s Monitor, the one that appears to have the most resonance, particularly for those in the “wait and see” group, is full FDA approval of one or more of the COVID-19 vaccines. About a third (32%) of those who have not been vaccinated, including 44% of those who say they want to “wait and see,” say they would be more likely to get vaccinated if one of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use received full approval from the FDA. One in five (21%) of those who are employed and unvaccinated say they’d be more likely to get the vaccine if their employer gave them paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from any side effects.

Among various financial incentives, small shares of those who haven’t gotten a vaccine say they’d be more likely to do so if they were offered $100 from their state government (15%), free transportation from a ride sharing company (13%), free tickets to a sporting event or concert (11%), or a $20 coupon for items like food or drinks (10%).

The shares who say they’d be more likely to get vaccinated if offered many of these financial incentives are larger among some key populations among whom vaccination rates have lagged, including Black and Hispanic adults and those with lower household incomes. Notably, larger shares of Both Black and Hispanic adults compared to White adults who have not been vaccinated say they’d be more likely to get a vaccine if they were offered free transportation from a ride share company like Uber or Lyft, reflecting disproportionate concern about having difficulty traveling to a vaccination site among these populations identified in previous Monitor reports. These findings suggest that financial incentives and travel assistance could help further close gaps in vaccination rates between White communities and people of color, in addition to helping some adults with lower socioeconomic status get vaccinated.

Percent who say they would be more likely to get vaccinated if offered the following… Race/Ethnicity Household income
Black Hispanic White <$40,000 $40,000 or more
$100 from their state government 25% 29% 8% 22% 11%
Free transportation from a ride share company 22% 29% 5% 21% 7%
Free tickets to a sporting event or concert 20% 21% 6% 17% 7%
$20 coupon for items such as food or drinks 15% 22% 6% 16% 6%

There is also the possibility for incentives and requirements to get vaccinated to backfire with certain individuals. In fact, among those who have not been vaccinated and are not ready to get the vaccine as soon as possible, about four in ten (41%) say they have felt “unfairly pressured” to get the COVID-19 vaccine, including half of those who say they will “definitely not” get vaccinated (51%) and similar shares of women (48%) and college graduates (52%).

When those who report feeling unfair pressure are asked who they think has been applying that pressure, the most common responses include the government (36%), the media (19%), society in general (14%), and their friends, family, or coworkers (12%). 

Reactions to New CDC Guidance on Safe Activities for Fully Vaccinated Adults

On May 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated public health guidelines for activities that fully vaccinated people can safely engage in. Among other things, the new guidance states that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by other laws, regulations, or business restrictions. Asked how they feel about the CDC guidelines, just over half the public (54%) says they are “clear and easy to understand” and just over four in ten (43%) say they are “confusing and hard to follow”. Notably, similar shares of both vaccinated and unvaccinated adults say they find the guidance confusing, though there is a partisan divide with a majority of Republicans (56%) saying the guidance is confusing and majorities of Democrats (59%) and independents (60%) saying it is clear. This may reflect partisan differences in trust of the CDC as identified in previous Vaccine Monitor reports.

When those who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19 are asked how the new CDC guidance saying fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or social distance in most places might affect their own vaccination plans, the vast majority (85%) say it makes no difference. One in ten say this updated guidance makes them more likely to get vaccinated, but a small share (4%) say it makes them less likely to get a vaccine.

Parents’ Intentions for Vaccinating Children

With the recent FDA authorization for the use of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 12 and older, the latest Monitor finds about four in ten (41%) parents of children ages 12-17 say their child has already received at least one dose of the vaccine (24%) or that they will get them vaccinated right away (18%). About one in five parents of adolescents say they will “wait a while to see how it is working” before getting their child vaccinated (21%), while 14% say they will get their child vaccinated only if their school requires it and another one in five say they will “definitely not” get their 12-17 year-old vaccinated.

Parents of younger children, for whom a COVID-19 vaccine is not yet authorized, are more cautious in their approach to the vaccine. One-quarter (26%) say they will get their child under age 12 vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is authorized for their age group, while one-third intend to wait a while to see how the vaccine is working. An additional 14% say they will vaccinate their young child only if school requires it and one-quarter (26%) say they will definitely not get them vaccinated.

Parents’ own vaccination status is correlated with their intentions to vaccinate their children for COVID-19. Among parents of children under age 12 who have received a vaccine themselves, nearly half (46%) say they will get their younger child a vaccine as soon as one is authorized for their age group compared to just 8% of parents who have not received a vaccine. By contrast, 42% of unvaccinated parents say they will “definitely not” get their child under age 12 vaccinated compared to just 8% of parents who have received the vaccine themselves.

When parents are asked the biggest question they have when it comes to their child receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, the questions echo many of the concerns we have heard from adults about getting the vaccine themselves. One in five parents mention questions about potential side effects or negative reactions to the vaccine, and another 10% have questions about long-term side effects specifically. Six percent of parents say they want to know more about the research that was done on children and 5% have questions about the safety of the vaccine for children. Smaller shares mention questions about vaccine effectiveness, availability, and whether it’s necessary for children to get vaccinated. About one in five parents (19%) say they do not have any questions when it comes to their child receiving a vaccine.

These questions and concerns don’t necessarily reflect a resistance among parents to vaccines more broadly. Just 11% of parents say they have ever delayed or skipped other vaccines for their children.

In their own words: What is the biggest question you have, if any, when it comes to your child or children receiving a COVID-19 vaccine?

“I’m most interested in the long term impact of their development, physical, mental and reproductive development.”
—Black mother of child under age 12, will get child vaccinated only if school requires it

“I want to know how my children’s bodies will react to the vaccine. I also want to know if it will be authorized completely by the FDA.”
—Hispanic mother of child under age 12, will get child vaccinated only if school requires it

“The pain the shot will cause them, my arm was severely sore, so how is that going to affect my child?”
—Hispanic mother of child under age 12, will wait and see before getting child vaccinated

“Is it gonna really work? Is it going to keep them safe considering all the side effects people are having?”
—Black father of child under age 12, will wait and see before getting child vaccinated

“If a child has health conditions already, no one knows what the side effects are. If they take the COVID vaccine and they were to get sick, what would be to prevent them from getting worse?”
—White father of child age 12-15, will wait and see before getting child vaccinated

“So the biggest question I have is how will they follow up with the new vaccine in the following year? With the strain ever changing. How will they follow up the next year? Or do they just expect me to continue to pump my kid with a drug that they don’t know how it affects everything?”
—Hispanic mother of child age 16-17, will get child vaccinated only if school requires it

“I want to know if the vaccines my children are taking are really effective against the virus. I want to know if younger children also have to get the vaccine.”
—Hispanic mother of children ages 12-15 and 16-17, child has already been vaccinated

“I do not have a question because they are not getting it.”
—White mother of children under age 12 and ages 12-17, will definitely not get child vaccinated



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