COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy may be waning over time, survey suggests

A new survey suggests that some people who were once hesitant of the COVID-19 vaccine may be more inclined to get the shot today.

Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta published their findings in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" after surveying more than 4,600 people between August and December 2020, just before the first vaccine was rolled out. More than 3,400 of them responded to a follow-up survey between March and April 2021. 

For those who were initially vaccine-hesitant, results showed some people changed their minds by the time of the follow-up survey: 32% of respondents got at least one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, 37% said they were likely to get the vaccine and 32% said they would remain unvaccinated. 

For those who were initially inclined to get the vaccine, results during the follow-up survey showed 54% of respondents got one or more doses of the vaccine, 39% said they remained likely to get the vaccine and 7% changed their mind and said they were likely to remain unvaccinated. 

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Researchers noted initial vaccine willingness was higher among the college-educated than those who had a lower level of education. Researchers noted the same difference during the follow-up survey with those who received the vaccine compared to those who didn’t. 

Researchers also noted that they saw about the same number of Hispanics and non-Hispanic Whites willing to get the vaccine at first. But more non-Hispanic Whites followed through with the vaccination compared to Hispanics by the time of the follow-up survey. 

Researchers didn’t explain why vaccine hesitancy has seemed to wane over the months. Nevertheless, it comes after U.S. health officials and the Biden administration had been working to overcome vaccine hesitancy throughout the year. Some states and companies even offered financial incentives to encourage people to get the vaccine. 

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Still, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65.6% of Americans 12 years and older are fully vaccinated. An estimated 70 million eligible Americans remain unvaccinated, providing kindling for the delta variant and further opportunity for incubation of other worrisome mutations.

This is the case despite a growing number of businesses announcing vaccination requirements for their employees, including Google, McDonald’s, Microsoft and Disney. Also, big cities such as New York and San Francisco are demanding people be vaccinated to eat at restaurants or enter certain other businesses.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he’s worried that people resisting COVID-19 vaccine shots based on religious grounds may be confusing that with a philosophical objection. Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, says getting the COVID-19 vaccine is no different in concept than receiving other vaccines such as for measles, which have been done for many years. He says a public health review found "very, very few, literally less than a handful" of established religions which actually oppose vaccinations.

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U.S. health officials have also repeatedly warned that unvaccinated Americans are at higher risk of severe symptoms and hospitalization if they contract COVID-19.

New U.S. studies released last month showed the COVID-19 vaccines remain highly effective against hospitalization and death even as the extra-contagious delta variant swept the country. 

One study tracked over 600,000 COVID-19 cases in 13 states from April through mid-July. As the more transmissible COVID-19 delta variant surged in early summer, those who were unvaccinated were 4.5 times more likely than the fully vaccinated to get infected, over 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 11 times more likely to die, according to the CDC.

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In September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized a third booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Americans who are 65 and older, younger adults with underlying health conditions and those in jobs that put them at high risk for COVID-19. Under the FDA authorization, vaccinated Americans are eligible for the third dose six months after receiving their second Pfizer shot.

The FDA is convening its outside panel of advisers next week to review booster data from both Johnson & Johnson and Moderna and their vaccines.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.