Healthcare workers are literally dancing in the street about the development of several super-effective vaccines for COVID-19 in record time. But some American women still have doubts, according to a survey of nearly 1,500 women by the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI). Some 65% of respondents say they’ll get a shot when one is offered to them (which depends on age, employment, COVID-19 risk factors, and other parameters set by federal and state governments) or soon after. But a not insignificant 14% are pretty certain they won’t roll up their sleeves at all. (The remainder were unsure.)
The survey was conducted online in December, when vaccines finally began rolling out across the country — but also as COVID-19 continued raging, setting new records for hospitalizations and deaths. It asked women about their personal experiences with the coronavirus, thoughts about getting the vaccine for themselves and their family, and what they wanted the next few months to look like.
Here’s what we found, along with sober, science-backed advice from doctors and scientists to help you need to make a good choice.
You're Eager for a Vaccine
Among the women who want a shot (the 38% of the 1,473 survey respondents who are eager to get the shot ASAP plus another 27% who want a vaccine but are content to wait a bit), both personal and altruistic reasons were given. More than 38% of this group are looking to protect their family, including the third of these respondents who want to shield a loved one at high risk of severe COVID disease (presumably because they have a preexisting condition like diabetes or heart disease that makes serious illness more likely). An additional quarter are looking to protect others in their community.
Some in this pro-vaccine group are hoping the inoculation will let them return to their regular life, especially when it comes to family. Brenda Robinson in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, a retired elementary school teacher, is one of them. Robinson has six grandchildren and can’t wait to be able to travel to Connecticut and Michigan to visit. “Once we get the vaccine, we plan to see them as much as we can. The coronavirus separation has made us realize we don’t want to miss any more moments in our grandchildren’s lives,” Robinson says.
The Expert Take:
The development of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S., which are a whopping 94% to 95% effective, is an important step for keeping people safe. But even after you get the vaccine, you won’t be able to let your guard down until the virus is defeated. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends continuing to use all tools known to reduce transmission, even after you get vaccinated. This includes wearing a mask over your mouth and nose, staying at least six feet away from others, avoiding gathering in groups, and washing your hands regularly. Continue to monitor information from the CDC and your local health department to see when these recommendations can be loosened.
But Some Have a Lot of Distrust
At the time of the survey, nearly 14% of the GHI respondents would not take a vaccine. A quarter of these say they don’t trust the drug manufacturers, government, or the medical community behind the discoveries. And more than half worry it was pushed out too quickly or that unknown side effects may emerge as the shots go into an increasing number of arms.
Teresa Spencer, a dental assistant in Lino Lakes, Minnesota, gets a flu shot each year, but the newness of both the disease and the immunization give her pause. “I’m just kind of leery,” she says, noting she prefers to wait for six months or a year, even if she is offered the vaccine earlier. That way, even the rarest side effect will be evident, and experts will know if the vaccine is as effective and long-lasting as they hope, she says. That said, Spencer's feelings may be partly because she is lucky enough to not have had any friends or relatives who’ve gotten really sick from COVID.
Some Have Medical Concerns
A big reason for hesitancy for some of the respondents is that they have cancer or another chronic illness. “I have autoimmune disease and sometimes react to immunizations,” one woman said in explaining why she’s not getting vaccinated.
The Expert Take:
Anyone who has particular health concerns should discuss the vaccine with their physician, Dr. Hotez advises. He does point out that the FDA did not include cautions for any diseases in its approval. “There’s no obvious reason why being immunocompromised should affect your ability to be vaccinated,” he says. In fact, currently the FDA has flagged only people who have had a severe allergic reaction to any ingredients in the vaccine or have an allergic response to the first of the two doses. “If you’ve had a reaction to other vaccines in the past, you should discuss this with your doctor,” Dr. Hotez says.
Some Are Just Not That Worried About Covid
Luckily, this isn’t many people: Just over 6% of respondents who don’t want to be immunized say they don’t worry about contracting COVID-19. Yet among all survey respondents, 14% have or think they had it themselves and 80% know someone who has gotten the disease (over a quarter of them said the person’s case was severe or fatal).
A few of the vaccine-hesitant respondents say they’re waiting for other shots in the pipeline. Interestingly, several who don’t want to get jabbed have selfless motives. “I wouldn’t want to… limit others' ability to take it, especially those who really need it more than I do,” one respondent says.
The Expert Take:
In case there is any doubt, COVID-19 is a serious disease: to date, the coronavirus has killed roughly 2% of people who have contracted it — more than 300,000 Americans. An unknown number of others who get COVID-19 struggle with symptoms for months after. In fact, more than a third of survey respondents know someone with this “long-haul COVID” condition, which can involve fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, and other lingering impairments. This is why it’s important to take any vaccine that is offered to you. “Don’t try to game it out. They all work the same way, by inducing virus neutralizing antibodies in the body,” Dr. Hotez says, noting that the sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner those antibodies can start protecting you.
Children are Another Story
Moms with minor children are more hesitant about the idea of their kids getting vaccinated when they are able to, than they are about themselves. Some 20% won’t feel comfortable immunizing their child, while only 53% are eager (compared with 14% and 65%, respectively, for the women themselves).
The Expert Take:
Currently, the Pfizer vaccine is approved only for people 16 and older, the Moderna vaccine for those 18 and older, because more studies need to be done in kids. It is standard practice for new agents to be tested in adults first, explains Onyema Ogbuagu, MBBCh, an infectious disease specialist at Yale Medicine and one of the principal investigators for the Pfizer trial. Children, especially those under five, have less developed immune systems and so might get a different level of protection than adults, he says. Side effects could be different too, although he suspects children might get less of them. Still, “you never know for sure” until you study this population, he says, noting that a current clinical trial is now enrolling youth ages 12 to 15.
The Bottom Line:
Until children are able to be immunized, experts advise parents to give kids extra emotional support, especially since many are experiencing high levels of stress from the pandemic. The CDC recommends that you answer all of your child’s questions honestly, try to keep a regularly home routine, limit media exposure, spend meaningful family time together, and let them know it is okay to feel upset. If your child exhibits serious signs of mental difficulties, including unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, doing poorly in school, or seeming excessively worried or sad, talk to a professional.
The Type of Media People Consume Makes a Difference
Where people get their coronavirus news seems to influence their feelings about the vaccine. Respondents who get information from Fox News, OAN, Facebook, or blogs have more vaccine hesitancy than those watching CNN or reading magazines or newspapers, the survey found.
The Expert Take:
It’s unfortunate that pervasive false and negative messaging has influenced people's perceptions and interpretations about COVID, Dr. Ogbuagu says. Their sources and motives are varied, but Dr. Hotez points to the large and vocal anti-vax community in the U.S filling social media with misinformation, in large part because stoking controversy helps people sell more books. It’s crucial that everyone get accurate facts about the vaccine and the disease so you can keep yourself safe. Trusted sources include the CDC, the FDA, Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center, and your own state and local health departments.
Minority Communities Have Concerns
Respondents of the GHI survey were largely white, with only 9% people of color. There were not enough Black people and people of color in our survey to give meaningful statistics based on the race of the respondents. But experts and other polling have revealed that these communities in general are more hesitant about the vaccine, at least in part because of a long history of mistreatment by doctors, hospitals, and researchers.
The Expert Take:
“Racial and ethnic minorities who are suspicious of science in many cases are rightly so. They worry that if harms come to them, they might be treated differently,” Dr. Ogbuagu says. The reality of unequal care and outright abuse is further stoked by the anti-vax groups, who are specifically targeting people of color, Dr. Hotez notes. Dr. Hotez says medical experts are eager to work in minority communities to share data showing the vaccine is safe — especially because people of color have been infected and have died at higher rates than whites. Government medical experts have pointed out that the vaccine was partly created by a Black scientist in an effort to reduce hesitation.
But Overall, You're Psyched
The good news is that with 65% of respondents feeling good about a vaccine we all should be able to get in the coming months, there’s finally hope this long, depressing season will be ending and we can get back to the things we love.
For Jennifer Short, an insurance consultant in Des Moines, Iowa, this means travel, something her family budgets for every year. After having canceled a vacation to Paris last year, she’s cautiously optimistic that the medical miracle of a vaccine might allow her and her husband and six-year-old son to visit Costa Rica in the summer.
The Expert Take:
Experts hope that people do keep their eye on the impressive scientific progress the vaccines represent. “The vaccine development process proceeded quickly because it galvanized academic centers, drug companies, government, medical centers, and others,” Dr. Ogbuagu says. “This happened because the best minds came together to address the plague of our times, in order to save lives,” he says.