Where To Start To Build Vaccine Confidence

A shorter version of this column has been published by Axios.

Lots of attention has been given recently to Republican vaccine resisters, and while far from all Republicans are vaccine resisters, Republicans are among the groups likely to say they will not get vaccinated.  But the group to really focus on to make rapid progress is the “wait and see group”. It includes about equal shares of Democrats, Independents and Republicans who are more persuadable than the harder core vaccine resisters are.

The “no” group hasn’t changed in size in months while the wait and see group has been shrinking. The wait and see group also includes larger shares of people of color hardest hit by the pandemic. One reason to emphasize the more persuadable as part of a broader effort: as more people get vaccinated it will build public confidence in the vaccines as well as progress towards herd immunity.

Vaccine resisters say either they will not get the vaccine unless they are required to, or flat out say they will not get vaccinated no matter what. Three groups of resisters stand out: Republicans, (38% of them are resisters), rural Americans (28%), and essential workers who do not work in health (32%). They have various reasons for not wanting to get the vaccine: among them, denying the severity of the pandemic. Strategies are emerging to address their concerns.

But if you look at those who are waiting to decide – the wait and see group – Black adults (34% of Black adults) and young adults (33%) stand out, with Latinos not too far behind (26%). Their concerns, among many, center around worries about side effects from the vaccine and its cost (it is free).

The wait and see group has been shrinking, suggesting they can be moved as they see others vaccinated and as informational and access barriers are addressed. The size of the group dropped from 39% in December to 22% in February. By contrast, the harder core resistance has not budged since December.

Building vaccine confidence is a multi dimensional challenge and no group can be ignored, including of course Republicans. Rural Americans in particular deserve their fair share of attention and so far they are not getting it. But the best strategy for building vaccine confidence would focus heavily on the wait and see groups to produce early results to build on. And, the wait and see groups include larger shares of people color who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

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