Six in 10 Americans said they are somewhat or very likely to get a Covid-19 vaccine if doing so would lower the risk of becoming infected by about half, according to a new survey from STAT and The Harris Poll. The poll also found that more Americans say they are likely to get a vaccine, practice social distancing, and wear a mask if they or someone they know has contracted Covid-19.
The findings come on the heels of the news that a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech was strongly effective. An early analysis of results showed that individuals who received two injections three weeks apart experienced more than 90% fewer cases of symptomatic Covid-19 than those who were given a placebo.
The poll, which surveyed 1,954 adults online between Oct. 29-31, suggests that even a less effective vaccine wouldn’t have an outsized impact on the public’s willingness to be immunized. Among those queried, nearly two-thirds reported they would get a vaccine if the shot lowered their risk of contracting the coronavirus by 75%.
Drill down further, however, and the data shows that only 56% of those between 18 and 34 years old are likely to get vaccinated if a shot would decrease the odds of becoming infected by half. This rose to 64%, though, when a vaccine would reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus by 75%.
“If we’re actually at 90%, it’s going to reinforce for two-thirds of Americans who are then much more likely to take the vaccine, although I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t need to be 90% effective to get that pull through,” said Rob Jekielek, managing director of The Harris Poll. “It may not necessarily need to be the 90% that Pfizer is showing in its preliminary results. But the data indicates it will have to be over 50% for the general public and over 75% for that younger generation of Americans.”
Irrespective of expected efficacy, the likelihood of Black Americans to get inoculated is lower than with other racial and ethnic groups, the poll found. But it is noteworthy that the share of Black Americans who say they’re likely to get a vaccine doesn’t jump at 50% efficacy, which saw a 10% to 15% uptick among other groups. So even with a vaccine that offers very high efficacy, this will be an important challenge for public health experts to overcome.
The responses appear to underscore lingering concerns about a Covid-19 vaccine. For months, the Trump administration — and President Trump, in particular — pushed the idea that a vaccine would arrive this fall, sparking debate that such a development might somehow be timed to offer an advantage in the recent election.
This factored into a larger controversy over the extent to which politics — and not science — guided the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic. At the same time, speculation over a vaccine also fed into ongoing wrangling over the safety of vaccines more broadly, which prompted concerns from public health experts that reluctance among the public to get vaccinated would hamper efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.
The survey also found that 81% of Americans view the coronavirus as somewhat or serious public health threat. However, the perception of how big a threat Covid-19 poses varied considerably depending upon age. For instance, 76% of those ages 18 to 34 see Covid-19 as a somewhat or very serious public health threat, compared with 87% of those 65 years and older.
Meanwhile, more people are willing to wear masks and practice social distancing if they or someone they know has contracted Covid-19, though the share who said they would adopt such preventive health measures remains relatively low. Among people who had been infected, 62% said they would now wear a mask, compared to 79% of those who had a family member or close friend infected.
On a similar note, just 61% of people who had contracted the virus said they would practice social distancing — staying 6 feet apart from others — after contracting the virus. By comparison, 76% of those who had a close friend or family member become infected and 74% of those with an acquaintance who had Covid-19 said they would do so.
“As people are hearing stories about friends and family or from an acquaintance, it’s shaping their views,” said Jekielek. “So being able to show people the implications on someone’s health is really important.”
Even so, only 54% said they were less likely to attend a large group event after contracting Covid-19, while 71% expressed the same view after a close friend or family member became infected. And 72% reported they were less likely to attend a large group event after learning that an acquaintance caught the virus.