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Most unvaccinated Americans believe coronavirus vaccine poses greater health risk than the disease, poll finds

Tyson Foods team members receive coronavirus vaccines from health officials at the Wilkesboro, N.C., facility in February. (Melissa Melvin/AP)

More unvaccinated adults in the United States view the coronavirus vaccine as a greater risk to their health than the disease caused by the virus itself, a poll found.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a survey Wednesday that found there was a big split between unvaccinated and vaccinated adults in what they perceived as the bigger threat during the pandemic.

Just over half of unvaccinated adults (53 percent) said they believed getting vaccinated posed a bigger risk to their health than getting infected with the coronavirus. “In contrast, an overwhelming majority (88 percent) of vaccinated adults said that getting infected with COVID-19 is a bigger risk to their health than the vaccine,” the report found.

Unvaccinated adults were also much less worried about the more transmissible delta variant and had less confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines compared with those who got the shots, according to the KFF survey.

The majority of unvaccinated adults (57 percent) also said they thought the news media had “generally exaggerated” the seriousness of the pandemic, compared with 17 percent of vaccinated adults.

The poll comes as Biden administration officials increasingly frame the current outbreak as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” with President Biden taking a tougher line, urging the unvaccinated to get inoculated.

“If you’re unvaccinated, you are much more likely to, one, get covid-19; two, get hospitalized; and, three, die if you get it,” Biden said on Tuesday. “This is a tragedy.”

Earlier this week, the country met the president’s goal of at least 70 percent of adult Americans receiving at least one dose of a vaccine — about a month late.

Have you gotten an extra coronavirus shot? Tell us your story.

New daily cases in the United States rose 52 percent over the past week, according to The Washington Post coronavirus tracker. Still, hospitalizations and deaths have lagged behind, which Biden noted was because the vaccines are effective in reducing the likelihood of severe illness or death.

On the flip side, the KFF poll found 62 percent of vaccinated adults said news of the coronavirus variants had made them even more likely to wear a mask in public or avoid large gatherings, while fewer unvaccinated adults said the same (37 percent).

However, the poll also found vaccine views were hardening — with just over 1 in 5 unvaccinated adults saying news of variants had made them more likely to get vaccinated. Additionally, the share of adults who had either received a vaccine or said they would do so soon remained relatively unchanged since June.

The poll was completed between July 15 and 27, which means it may not capture any recent uptick in vaccinations since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined the heightened threat of the delta variant in the United States.

Many Americans refusing to get vaccinated cite the lack of formal Food and Drug Administration approval, or are fueled by conspiracy theories about harmful effects of the vaccine, or say they are waiting to see what the effects of the shots may be. The opposition is unsettling public health experts who have stressed that the vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to stamp out the pandemic.

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Vaccine uptake could still change as the virus tears through parts of the country — with surges in Florida, Louisiana and Arkansas. Officials at some hospitals in the country have said they are stretched to capacity as public health officials take more aggressive steps to encourage vaccinations.

“Seeing their friends get sick and local hospitals fill up again with covid patients may speed them along and add to their ranks,” said KFF CEO Drew Altman in a statement.

There is also a gender gap in vaccine uptake, said the KFF survey, which interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,517 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The survey found 71 percent of women reported they had at least one shot compared with 63 percent of men. There was also a larger share of men saying they will “definitely not” get the vaccine.

Emily Guskin contributed to this report from Washington.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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