A new poll shows only two-thirds of Nevadans want to get a vaccine for COVID-19 if and when one becomes available to the general public, a statistic one national vaccine authority described as “frightening.”
The Nevada Poll™, conducted for the Review-Journal and AARP Nevada by WPA Intelligence, found 63 percent said they would get the vaccine, either right away or eventually.
But 38 percent said they either would never or may never get it, according to the poll of 512 likely voters in Nevada. Conducted Oct. 7-11, it has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.
“The numbers are frightening because so many people are betting on a vaccine to help work their way out of this pandemic, and it’s clear that many Nevadans are nervous,” said Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, who wrote a 2017 book on vaccine ethics and policy. “The number who say they’re not going to do it is much higher than the usual numbers you see from the usual vaccine resisters.”
He continued, “I think that’s very disappointing because if we had an approved vaccine, we would need the vast majority of people to take it in order to get the maximum benefit, which is herd immunity.”
With herd immunity, enough of a community has protection against a particular disease to keep it from easily spreading to newborns and those others who can’t or won’t be vaccinated as well as those for whom a vaccine is less effective.
Caplan thought that members of the public may have concerns over the safety of a vaccine stemming from pauses in vaccine trials and new strategies for vaccine development. The latter include Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s program to deliver doses by early next year, if not sooner.
“What appears to be of concern is Operation Warp Speed — which at the time sounded like a great name — has given a lot of people fears that corners will be cut and vaccines that are available may not be proven safe,” said Walter A. Orenstein, a professor of medicine at Emory University and the former director of the U.S. Immunization Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One thing Nevadans agree on
Pollster Chris Wilson said the polling didn’t show major partisan differences over willingness to get a the vaccine, despite the politicization.
“The one thing that Nevadans agree on is that they’re not going to rush out and get a shot,” Wilson said.
Just 16 percent of those polled said they would get the vaccine immediately, including 18 percent of Republicans and 14 percent of Democrats. Yet 23 percent of those identifying as liberal said they would immediately get the vaccine, compared with 21 percent of conservatives.
Men are more likely than women to want the vaccine. Seventy-one percent of men said they would get the vaccine, in contrast to 55 percent of women.
The oldest Nevadans, who have higher rates of complications and deaths from COVID-19, want the vaccine the most of any age group. Of those 65 and older, 74 percent want the vaccine. But the second most likely group to get the vaccine was the youngest group polled, with 64 percent of those 18 to 34 saying they would get it.
The age group least likely to get the vaccine was those age 35 to 44, of whom 56 percent said they would get the vaccine.
Wilson said he did not see major differences based on education level but did see striking racial differences.
Twenty-three percent of Asians said they would get the vaccine right away, compared with 18 percent of whites, 13 percent of Hispanics and just 2 percent of Blacks.
Twenty-three percent of Blacks said they would never get the vaccine, the largest number of any racial group, despite suffering disproportionately from the disease. Overall, 18 percent of respondents said they would never get the vaccine.
One expert said the result made sense.
“One thing I think that sometimes we underestimate, particularly in minority communities and in my community, the African American community, is that there’s a true historical context around a fear and a distrust of the medical system that is real,” said Dr. Margot Savoy, an associate professor at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, speaking with journalists in August.
“We talk about the history as though it happened millions of years ago when, for some of us, that happened to our grandparents, who we knew and loved and they were in our lives,” said Savoy, who gives her patients a “very strong, favorable recommendation for vaccines.”
From the early 1930s until the early 1970s, the U.S. government conducted a study of the effects of untreated syphilis in Black men in Macon County, Alabama, and failed to provide the men with penicillin when the drug became available.
Work to do
Work needs to be done to overcome the concerns of “some subgroups in the population who are especially worried that they’re going to be turned into guinea pigs or the medical establishment is not looking out to protect them,” Caplan said.
Building trust across communities will be critical, both Caplan and Orenstein said. This is likely especially true in Nevada, which has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
Clark County’s public health authority said it has partnerships and a plan.
“The Health District has ongoing partnerships to provide information to the public about the safety of vaccines and the importance of getting immunized to protect their individual health and those around them,” Jennifer Sizemore, a spokeswoman for the Southern Nevada Health District, said in an email. “These efforts are being extended to our planning for the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Caplan believes that the number of people who say they would never get a vaccine could decline in the face of an effective vaccine.
“My belief is if you got the vaccine out there and it seemed safe and people seemed OK and getting protection, I think that number would fall,” Caplan said. “In reality if things go well, then I think many people might change their minds.”