Vaccine Hesitancy Is the Next Big Threat
Right now, booking a coronavirus vaccine appointment can feel like winning the lottery. With demand far outstripping supply, it’s hard to imagine a time when it will be easy to get one whenever you want—yet difficult to convince skeptical people to roll up their sleeve for a shot.
But that future may be coming soon. A new TIME-Harris poll sheds light on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and the trends are troubling. Of the 854 respondents, only about half (52%) said they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine once it was available to them. A quarter (26%) say they won’t get one, and 21% haven’t yet made up their minds.
Those numbers fluctuate when you zoom in on demographic data. Black Americans are the least enthused about the shot, with only 34% planning to get it, and 33% set against it. Hispanic Americans are only a bit more likely to say they’ll get it (38%), followed by Native Americans or Alaskan Natives (43%). Those most likely to want the vaccine are white Americans (58%) and Asian Americans (80%).
The reasons why Americans would pass on a free shot designed to protect them from a virus that kills hundreds or thousands a day are myriad, ranging from misinformation about the vaccine to, in the case of racial minorities, distrust in a medical system that has historically lied to them, harmed them or otherwise let them down.
Yet vaccine hesitancy is not a uniquely American problem, as my colleague Vivienne Walt reports. Doctors in France are facing death threats after speaking publicly about the importance of getting vaccinated, she writes. Distrust of vaccines is widespread in France—particularly surrounding the coronavirus shot, which many French believe to be part of a government conspiracy or a money-making tool of the pharmaceutical industry.
“There is a really, really strong link between skepticism of the vaccine, and distrust of political institutions,” one French researcher told Vivienne. “We have a very, very high level of political distrust.”
A Kantar Public poll this month found that 37% of people in France would definitely or probably not get vaccinated, compared to 26% in the U.S. Partially as a result of that hesitancy, France is lagging behind in vaccine administration compared to other European countries—only about 3.4% of people in France have received a shot, far less than the 23% of people vaccinated in the U.K.
One of the best ways to change false beliefs about vaccination is to spread true information, and that’s exactly what doctors in France are doing. Despite being threatened and verbally abused, they aren’t stopping in their quest to convert skeptics. “It is very, very important that we do not shut up when we are harassed,” one told Vivienne. “What we are saying about the vaccines is true, with science.” Many doctors and other experts in the U.S., meanwhile, are taking a similar approach as vaccination efforts here continue apace.