So what bad vaccine news is out there? For one: that so many adult Americans still don’t want the shot.
There has been repeated polling on the issue of vaccine hesitancy, linking it, among other things, to political views. Data from the Household Pulse Survey conducted by the Census Bureau in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows some good news in that regard. Since January, the percentage of Americans saying that they won’t get vaccinated has fallen from 8.6 to 7.8 percent. That includes about 8 percent of White and Hispanic Americans and 9.5 percent of Black Americans.
As you might expect, views of vaccination vary widely by state. In some places, such as Vermont, nearly everyone either indicates a desire to be vaccinated or reports having already received a vaccine dose. In other states, such as North Dakota, hesitancy is far more common. In every state, though, the percentage of people saying either that they got a vaccine dose (and plan to complete the regimen) and those who say they definitely will get the vaccine has increased since January.
In part that’s because some portion of the hesitancy stemmed from concern about the vaccines’ potential effects. In January, about a quarter of those who hadn’t been vaccinated said they would wait to see if the vaccine was safe; by March, only one-fifth did.
But there are other concerns, ones that seem less readily overcome. About 10 percent of those who hadn’t received a dose cited a lack of trust in government as a reason for not getting vaccinated, about the same as the percentage in January.
This is a complicated, novel situation, obviously, and officials have been deliberate in trying to show the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines even as they highlight the utility in mass vaccination. (In short, the United States can either reach broad immunity through vaccines or through infections, and only the latter poses a significant risk of long-term health effects or death.) What’s also clear, though, is that politics continues to drive responses to the vaccines.
We can overlap the census data by state vote in 2020. That allows us to see, for example, that the percentage of people saying they would definitely not get vaccinated dropped in all but 17 states. Of those, 12 states supported Donald Trump in last year’s election. Of the 22 states in which the percentage of residents who say they definitely won’t be vaccinated is at or above 9 percent, all but four voted for Trump.
There are still eight states in which less than 60 percent of residents either have gotten or definitely plan to get vaccinated. Seven of them voted for Trump in 2020. The eighth, Georgia, narrowly preferred Joe Biden.
All of that aside, though, red states have done a better job to date in getting older Americans vaccinated. In 21 states, at least two-thirds of those age 65 and older say they’ve gotten a dose and will complete the regimen. Of those states, 14 backed Trump.
It’s easy to dive deep into this one bit of bad news and miss the very good news about the vaccines. For example, it’s easy to focus on the 8 percent who say they won’t get vaccinated instead of the 80-plus percent nationally who say they have been vaccinated and will or probably will get the shot. That percentage is about where the country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, has said we need to be to reach herd immunity, although these data are only for adults. (On Wednesday, Pfizer announced that its vaccine was effective among teenagers, as well.)
The country will reach herd immunity at some point. Ideally, it’s through broad distribution of vaccines. But it will otherwise happen as people get infected, fall ill and, in some instances, die.
It’s easy to see why the experts prefer the first option.