Key Findings

The KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor conducted interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,009 adults, using open-ended questions to better understand public concerns around receiving a COVID-19 vaccine as well as to hear from the public in their own words about the messages and messengers that could increase the likelihood of people getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • When asked to state in their own words, the public’s largest concern with getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the possible side effects, with nearly four in ten (36%) explicitly mentioning general side effects, long-term side effects, allergic reactions, or feeling ill after receiving the vaccine. This was the most common response given across key demographic groups – including some of the most vaccine hesitant populations. Nearly half of Black adults (47%) and Hispanic adults (47%) mention side effects as their biggest concern as do a majority (55%) of those who want to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated. This “wait and see” group also includes some health care workers who say they have not yet gotten vaccinated because of concern over side effects.
  • Smaller shares offer other concerns about getting vaccinated including the newness of the vaccine (12%), concerns about effectiveness (7%), and concerns about safety (5%). One in ten (10%) adults have a different type of concern about the vaccine, worrying about access and availability. Among the most vaccine enthusiastic, one in five (20%) say their biggest concern is access to the vaccine/availability of the vaccine.
  • Similar to the public’s biggest concerns with getting a COVID-19 vaccine, having more information about side effects tops the list of things people say could make them more likely to get vaccinated. When asked to say in their own words what messages or information would make them more likely to get vaccinated, 16% of those who have not yet gotten vaccinated offer responses related to side effects, including hearing that the vaccines produce no, few, or mild side effects (10%), more information about long-term side effects (3%), the most common side effects (2%).
  • Nearly half of the most vaccine hesitant group say nothing would make them more likely to get vaccinated while smaller shares of the most vaccine hesitant say hearing more information on side effects (11%), results of long-term studies/longer use in population (8%), assurances that the vaccine is safe (8%), and more information on the effectiveness of the vaccine (7%) would make them more likely to get vaccinated.
  • When asked to name a person who would make them more likely to get vaccinated upon learning that person was vaccinated, the most common people mentioned were close friends and family members. Eleven percent of those who have not yet been vaccinated say finding out their close friends or family members got vaccinated would make them more likely to get vaccinated.
  • The report also includes interactive tables with the verbatim responses to what are the public’s biggest concerns with getting a COVID-19 vaccine, what messages would make them more likely to get vaccinated, as well as their most trusted messengers.

The Concerns Behind Vaccine Hesitancy

When asked to put their concerns in their own words, nearly four in ten (36%) of U.S. adults who have not yet been vaccinated say their biggest concern about getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the possible side effects of the vaccine. This includes general comments around side effects (22%), concerns about long-term side effects (8%), allergic reactions (3%), and concerns over feeling ill (2%). Three times as many people mention concerns over side effects than any other concerns.

About one in eight (12%) say their biggest concern about getting vaccinated is around the novelty of the vaccine or the speed at which the vaccine was developed. This is followed by seven percent who say their biggest concern is the effectiveness of the vaccine, including two percent who are concerned about the effectiveness of the vaccine against new variants of the virus. Five percent of the public say their biggest concern is the safety of COVID-19 vaccines including a small share who are concerned about the safety of the vaccine for specific groups including the immunocompromised. One in ten (10%) adults have a different type of concern about the vaccine. This group’s biggest concern centers on accessing the vaccine and the availability of getting the vaccine.

Side effects are the most frequently mentioned concern across racial and ethnic groups, but the share mentioning side effects as a concern is notably higher among Black adults (47%) and Hispanic adults (47%) compared to White adults (29%).

The public’s concerns about getting a COVID-19 vaccine vary based on their own level of vaccine hesitancy. Among the most vaccine enthusiastic group (those who say when an FDA-approved vaccine for COVID-19 is available to them for free, they will get the vaccine as soon as they can, representing about four in ten of adults), one in five say their biggest concern is access to the vaccine/availability of the vaccine. This concern is not shared by the more vaccine hesitant groups. One-third of the most vaccine enthusiastic group say they have no concerns about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

In their own words: Among those who say they will get the vaccine “as soon as possible”

“My only concern is that there is enough vaccine to go around for both the first and second doses.” – 68 year old, male, white, Democrat, Texas, “as soon as possible”

“That I won’t be able to get it till the summer. That it may have a negative effect down the road, but I rather take that smaller chance, then the bigger chance of getting COVID.” – 60 year old, female, white, Republican, New York, “as soon as possible”

“Not being able to get the vaccine before I get COVID.” – 44 year old, female, black, Democrat, Pennsylvania, “as soon as possible”

“That the Trump administration cut corners in its manufacture, undermining its safety; that not enough has been produced due to government mismanagement by the Trump administration.” – 30 year old, male, white, independent, Florida, “as soon as possible”

Among those who say they want to “wait until it has been available for a while to see how it is working for other people” before getting the COVID-19 vaccine themselves (about three in ten of the public overall), a majority (55%) say their biggest concern is about the possible side effects of the vaccine. An additional 17% say their biggest concern is about the newness of the vaccine or lack of testing.

In their own words: Among those who want to “wait and see”

“Some concern about potential side effects. Bigger concern about not having to wait in long lines to get the vaccine.” – 66 year old, male, white, Republican, California, “wait and see”

“I am scared that the vaccine is not going to do my body well. I think that it will give me some problems.” – 25 year old, female, black, Democrat, Ohio, “wait and see”

“Vaccines and medications require AT LEAST a full year of trial period for testing in human subjects, simply put we’ve had this available for less than 6 months. Once verified that it has no dangerous long term side effects, I plan to fully support it, until then I cannot do that.” – 22 year old, male, white, independent, Indiana, “wait and see”

“I have an pre-existing condition so I am a little fearful to get it.” – 63 year old, female, Hispanic, Democrat, California, “wait and see”

About one in five adults are in the more vaccine hesitant group, including those who say they will get the vaccine only “if they are required to do so for work, school, or other activities” and those who say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine. About one-fourth of this group say their biggest concern about the COVID-19 vaccine is the newness of the vaccine/lack of testing (26%) which is similar to the share who say their biggest concern are the possible side effects (23%). An additional one in ten (12%) say they just don’t want or need the vaccine. A small but notable share of the most vaccine hesitant express concerns about what is in the vaccine/vaccine ingredients (3%), lack of trust in medical community and politicians (3%), or say COVID-19 is not that bad or think the vaccine would be worse than the virus (2%).

In their own words: Among those who say they will either “definitely not get” the vaccine or will “only if required”

“It was rushed. I used to participate in stage 1 clinical trials for medications and don’t feel safe taking the COVID vaccine” – 34 year old, female, Asian, independent, Florida, “definitely not”

“I don’t believe the FDA is telling the truth. The vaccine is not ready yet and people I know who have taken it are having serious side effects and doctors are covering it up.” – 42 year old, female, black, independent, North Carolina, “definitely not”

“I’m not injecting myself with a cocktail of chemicals to protect me from a virus with a 99% recovery rate. I’ll rely on the immune system I was born with and take my chances, rather than find out 10 years from now that my body harbors some form of harmful side effect far worse than the virus. No thanks.” – 39 year old, male, white, independent, Pennsylvania, “definitely not”

“I’ve already had COVID-19. I don’t understand why I would need a vaccine for it. There is conflicting information about mutation and immunity.” – 42 year old, female, white, no political preference, Idaho, “only if required”

Health Care Workers, even those who already got the vaccine, are also concerned about Side effects

Side effects were also a concern for health care workers, both those who have already been vaccinated, and those who have not. For some, they had concerns about the side effects of the vaccine, but these concerns did not stop them from being vaccinated.

In their own words: Among health care workers who already received the vaccine

“I just didn’t want to experience serious symptoms but it didn’t stop me from getting it and I didn’t have any symptoms.” – 36 year old, female, mixed race, Democrat, health care worker, Texas, received vaccine

“The side effects; mainly, contracting COVID-19 from the vaccine” – 28 year old, male, black, independent, health care worker, California, received vaccine

“Potential side effects and no research on long term effects” – 23 year old, female, white, independent, health care worker, Ohio, received vaccine

But for some health care workers who have not been vaccinated, concerns over side effects may be driving their vaccine hesitancy. This includes several comments from pregnant health care workers, or female health care workers concerned about how the vaccine could impact fertility.

In their own words: Among health care workers who want to “wait and see”

“I feel it was rushed compared to other vaccines. Corners were cut – 39 year old, male, white, independent, health care worker, California, “wait and see”

“Well right now because I’m pregnant, I work in a hospital and it was available for me to have if I wanted the vaccine but I declined.” – 28 year old, female, Hispanic, independent, health care worker, Washington, “wait and see”

“Had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine so I am very concerned that it could happen with the COVID vaccine” – 51 year old, female, white, Republican, health care worker, Pennsylvania, “wait and see”

Table 1: Biggest Concerns About Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine by COVID-19 Vaccine Enthusiasm
What is the biggest concern you had/have, if any, about getting a COVID-19 vaccine? Total Get it as soon as you can
(41%)
Wait and see
(28%)
Get it only if required/
Definitely not get it
(23%)
Side effects 36% 30% 55% 23%
Newness/speed/lack of testing 12 2 17 26
Access/availability of vaccine 10 20 1 2
Effectiveness of vaccine 7 8 6 7
The safety of the COVID-19 vaccines 5 3 4 7
Getting sick/dying from the vaccine 4 1 6 6
Don’t want it/Don’t need it 3 * * 12
COVID-19 is not that bad/Vaccine is worse than COVID-19 1 * 2 2
Personal medical concerns/previous bad experiences with vaccines 1 * 1 1
Don’t know what is in it/Vaccine ingredients 1 2 3
Don’t know if they should get vaccine if they already had COVID-19 1 1 1
Lack of trust/political concerns 1 1 3
People at higher risk should get it first 1 1 1 1
No concerns 17 33 2 5
NOTE: Among those who have not been vaccinated. Responses receiving at least 1% shown.
For Some, Reasons for getting vaccinated Outweigh Concerns

Among the small share of the population (8 percent in this survey) who have already received at least one dose (many of whom say they worked in a health care delivery setting), the reasons offered for why they chose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine include protecting themselves and others, to be able to see family members, and also that they received a vaccine as part of their employment.

Many of the responses from the health care workers touched on both their willingness to get vaccinated based their experiences working with COVID-19 patients throughout the past year, and their wish to protect their family members and themselves.

In their own words: Among health care workers who already received the vaccine

“After working with COVID-19 patients in a hospital setting, I knew I would be getting the vaccine as soon as it would be made available to me. Watching patients die that horrible death and the pain their families went through, I would do anything to reduce my chances at ending up in such a painful and powerless situation.” – 34 year old, female, Hispanic, Democrat, health care worker, New York, received vaccine

“My father and brother are immunosuppressed and I don’t want to pass anything I may have been exposed to at work to impact them.” – 55 year old, female, white, Republican, health care worker, Texas, received vaccine

“I believe that it will ultimately provide the best defense against the disease.” – 40 year old, male, Asian, Republican, health care worker, Florida, received vaccine

.

Trusted Messages and Messengers

With about half of the public saying they are either wanting to “wait and see,” will get vaccinated “only if required,” or “definitely will not” get vaccinated, the interviews also probed messages and messengers that people could hear that would make them more likely to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Similar to concerns, hearing more information on the side effects of the vaccine tops the list of things people say could make them more likely to get vaccinated. When asked to say in their own words what messages or information would make them more likely to get vaccinated, 16% of those who have not yet gotten vaccinated offer responses related to side effects, including hearing that the vaccine produces no or few side effects (8%), more information about long-term side effects (3%), the most common side effects (2%), or mild side effects (2%). A similar share (15%) say hearing more information on the effectiveness of the vaccines, such as how long immunity lasts (3%), that the vaccine is 100% effective (3%), that it stops the spread of COVID-19 (2%), and that it is effective against new strains (1%), would make them more likely to get vaccinated. One in ten say hearing that the vaccine is safe (12%) would also make them more likely to get vaccinated.

While about one-fourth of the most vaccine enthusiastic group say there is no message that can convince them, because they are already planning on getting the vaccine, there are still some messages that resonate for this group. Sixteen percent say hearing more information on the effectiveness of the vaccine would increase their likelihood to get the vaccine. Similar shares (14% and 11%, respectively) say the same about hearing more information about side effects and that the vaccine is safe. A small share of this group also say more vaccine availability and if it was easier to get would also increase the likelihood of them getting it.

In their own words: Among those who say they will get the vaccine “as soon as possible”

“That even if the vaccine is not 100% effective, everyone who gets it will not have as serious of symptoms from the disease.” – 65 year old, male, white, Republican, Virginia, “as soon as possible”

“I am 100% getting it either way, but it would be nice to know how long immunity lasts for and if it prevents spreading the virus. I understand more time is needed for a consensus on this topic” – 22 year old, female, Asian, independent, Florida, “as soon as possible”

“I’m 82 and a cancer guy….I’ll take any one of them I can get as soon as it’s available. Out here in Washington, there just hasn’t been much available.” – 82 year old, male, white, independent, Washington, “as soon as possible”

At least one-fifth of the “wait and see” group say hearing messages or information about the side effects (23%) and effectiveness (21%) would make them more likely to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Another 18% say hearing that the vaccine is safe would increase their likelihood of getting vaccinated. An additional 10% of this group say hearing about the experiences who have already been vaccinated would make them more likely to get vaccinated.

In their own words: Among those who want to “wait and see”

“That it is destroying the virus and not negatively affecting over 1% of those who have taken the shot.” – 63 year old, male, black, independent, Texas, “wait and see”

“That the first couple of rounds of vaccinations went well and there’s nothing to be afraid of.” – 22 year old, male, Hispanic, Republican, Texas, “wait and see”

“Have a website or doctors explaining how exactly the vaccine is made and how it works in our body.” – 63 year old, female, Hispanic, Democrat, California, “wait and see”

Nearly half of the most vaccine hesitant group say nothing would make them more likely to get vaccinated. About one in ten of this group say hearing more information on side effects (11%), results of long-term studies/longer use in population (8%), information that the vaccine is safe (8%), and more information on the effectiveness of the vaccine (7%) would make them more likely to get vaccinated. Another five percent say they want more information on the vaccine ingredients and how it was made.

In their own words: Among those who say they will either “definitely not get” the vaccine or will “only if required”

“Have anyone died during the trial periods of making the vaccine sufficient enough to give to public.”
– 28 year old, female, black, Democrat, Texas, “only if required”

“That no aborted fetal tissue was used and would have to have a COMPLETE list of accurate ingredients.”
– 58 year old, female, mixed race, independent, New Hampshire, “definitely not”

“There are no side effects and that they are not using this vaccine to inject a tracking system in humans.”
– 63 year old, female, black, independent, California, “only if required”

“Statistics of side effects experienced by Asians.”
– 40 year old, male, Asian, independent, Michigan, “only if required”

Table 2: Messages That Would Make The More Likely To Get a COVID-19 Vaccine by COVID-19 Vaccine Enthusiasm
If there is one message or piece of information you could hear that would make you MORE LIKELY to get vaccinated for COVID-19, what would it be? Total Already got it/
Get it as soon as you can
(49%)
Wait and see
(28%)
Get it only if required/
Definitely not get it
(23%)
More information on side effects 16% 14% 23% 11%
More information on effectiveness 15 16 21 7
That the vaccine is safe 12 11 18 8
Experiences from people who have already been vaccinated 6 6 10 3
Want results of long-term studies/longer use in population 4 * 8 8
More information on how it was made/developed 4 3 4 5
Easier to get/more vaccine available 4 8 1 1
More information on access/availability 1 1 *
If my work/school/childcare requires it 1 * * 2
Vaccine came in different form/Single dose/Not a shot 1 1 2
Seeing certain people get it 1 1 1 *
Full approval of FDA 1 1 2
Return to normal life/visit friends and family members 1 2 1 *
I was already planning on getting vaccinated 11 23 * 3
Nothing 20 12 12 47
NOTE: Responses receiving at least 1% shown.
Trusted Messengers

When asked to name a person who would make them more likely to get vaccinated upon learning that person was vaccinated, the most common response was friends and family. Eleven percent of those who have not yet been vaccinated say finding out their close friends or family members got vaccinated would make them more likely to get vaccinated. An additional 8% say hearing that an elected official like President Biden (4%), President Obama (1%), or President Trump (1%) getting vaccinated would make them more likely to get vaccinated. Fewer say seeing a celebrity (4%), a doctor, nurse, or health care provider (4%) – including their own doctor, would make them more likely to get vaccinated.

“Every Republican Senator.”
– 75 year old, male, white, independent, Oregon, “as soon as possible”

“My daughter who’s a nurse”
– 82 year old, female, white, Republican, New Jersey, “as soon as possible”

“Any friend , church member ,or relative who has had the shot would be trusted advice. But primarily my doctor”
– 74 year old, male, white, Republican, Florida, “as soon as possible”

“The Pope”
– 43 year old, male, white, independent, Arizona, “only if required”

“I’m atheist so “god” would literally walk down from heaven to give me the vaccine.”
– 22 year old, male, Hispanic, independent, Alabama, “definitely not”

“President Trump. He did get it and so will I.”
– 62 year old, female, Hispanic, Republican, Texas, “as soon as possible”

“My own family doctor”
– 43 year old, male, white, Republican, Arizona, “wait and see”

..

Biggest Concerns

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