The share of Americans who say they are likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it’s available is dropping — and the decline is notably more pronounced among Black Americans than among white individuals, according to a new survey from STAT and The Harris Poll.
Overall, 58% of the U.S. public said they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine was available when asked earlier this month, down considerably from 69% who said the same thing in mid-August. That change suggests growing concern that the regulatory approval process for a Covid-19 vaccine has been politicized by the Trump administration in the run-up to the presidential election.
Drill down further, and the new data show a striking disparity by race. The poll found that 59% of white Americans indicated they would get vaccinated as soon as a vaccine is ready, a decline from 70% in mid-August. Only 43% of Black individuals said they would pursue a vaccine as soon as it was available, a sharp drop from 65% in mid-August. The poll, which queried 2,050 people online from Oct. 7 to 10, was weighted to ensure the sample was representative of the general U.S. population.
The findings appear to underscore an ever-widening chasm in how white Americans and Black Americans perceive the health care system in the U.S., a difference that could reflect both health care disparities and decades of distrust that have only been magnified during the pandemic.
“When we’re looking at the intersection of vaccine and politics, everything is exaggerated. It’s not just racial disparities, but health disparities,” said Rob Jekielek, managing director of The Harris Poll. “Black [individuals] are disproportionately less likely to be within 60 minutes of a primary care physician, which also means they’re less likely to get useful information and instead use a hospital emergency room as a primary mechanism for care. They’re also less likely to have insurance.”
Such disparities have been reflected in the disproportionate toll the pandemic has taken on the Black community. A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences found that deaths due to the coronavirus were 2.5 times higher among Black individuals than white individuals, after adjusting for age differences.
And from March through mid-July, age-adjusted hospitalization rates due to Covid-19 for Black people — as well as Hispanics and Native American people — were roughly five times higher than that of white people, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
An analysis last July by FiveThirtyEight suggested that testing sites in and near mostly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods are likely to face greater demand than those near predominantly white neighborhoods, and this can contribute to longer wait times. And a study in the Journal of Travel Medicine found the proportion of residents who are people of color in an area is associated with increased travel time to a Covid-19 testing site.
For these reasons, the pandemic has exacerbated concerns about the extent to which the African-American community trusts the U.S. health care system, especially since President Trump has often disparaged minorities. At the same time, there is widespread uncertainty about the safety and effectiveness of any vaccine that his administration pushes out the door.
For the past few months, Trump has repeatedly promoted the idea that a vaccine would soon be available and has leaned on the Food and Drug Administration to move faster, an effort that was seen as a transparent bid to win votes and blunt criticism of his handling of the pandemic.
“There’s a historical level of distrust,” said Jekielek. “And when you think about stalling the spread of Covid-19, these findings indicate that we face an increasingly bigger problem.”
The survey also asked Americans how the news that Trump had tested positive for the virus might affect their actions. About 40% of Americans said they are somewhat or much more likely to get the coronavirus vaccine once it is available. That response was similar among Republicans and Democrats, with 41% and 44%, respectively expressing this view. At the same time, 41% reported their view on a vaccine hadn’t changed even though Trump was infected. Another 19% said they were somewhat or much less likely to pursue an available vaccine.
Masks and social distancing, however, elicited a different reaction.
Now that Trump tested positive for Covid-19, 57% of Americans said they were somewhat or much more likely to wear a mask. Among Republicans, 55% reported this response, compared to 66% of Democrats. Overall, only 36% said their position was unchanged, while 7% indicated they were somewhat or much less likely to wear a mask.
Meanwhile, 54% of the U.S. public reported they are now somewhat or much more likely to practice social distancing, with 51% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats expressing this view. Just 7% said they were somewhat or much less likely to practice social distancing after learning that Trump had developed Covid-19.