A new poll released today offers reasons for optimism regarding vaccine uptake, showing the vast majority of Massachusetts residents plan to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. However, hesitancy in when they plan to take it differs greatly among those of different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds, with Black and Latinx residents – those at greatest risk of the disease – expressing the most hesitancy. The results point to the urgent need to demonstrate transparency in the development process and safety of the vaccine itself early in the distribution phases among doctors and other healthcare workers.
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The survey, sponsored by the Museum of Science, Boston, and conducted in partnership with the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, highlights a concern of unequal uptake of the vaccination once it is available to more of the public. The poll reveals greater hesitancy among Black and Latinx residents to take the vaccine early. To avoid major inequities in wider public vaccination, communication during early distribution phases will require a focus on communities most in need of the vaccine including Black and Latinx residents, who have borne most of the severe health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
“We are at an exciting moment in our battle against COVID-19 with a multitude of vaccines in development that offer promising results. Now, as we face the push for distribution, this poll has affirmed the importance of building confidence in the science and celebrating the technological advancements that have made way for rapid, safe, and effective vaccines,” said Tim Ritchie, President of the Museum of Science. “The weeks and months ahead will offer one of the biggest tests, and opportunities, we have faced in science communication and the results of this poll help us shape our approach.”
The poll also found individuals’ personal doctors to be among the most trusted messengers around the vaccine. Even among groups more hesitant to take the vaccine, personal doctors earn a high level of trust. As vaccines are distributed amongst medical professionals, it will offer a proof point from a trusted community that the vaccine is safe and effective.
“This is welcome news because it shows that many Black and Latinx residents appreciate that a vaccine can help end this pandemic and save lives,” said Michael Curry, incoming CEO of the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers. “On the other hand, addressing vaccine concerns that are rooted in the mistreatment of people of color by the medical establishment over centuries, will be a major challenge. From being denied access to quality, affordable health care under Jim Crow to being enrolled in medical experiments without their consent, Black Americans, in particular, do not trust that our healthcare system has their best interests at heart. Community health centers look forward to leveraging our unique knowledge and understanding of these communities to help them feel more confident in making decisions during this unprecedented public health emergency.”
The poll illuminates the biggest source of concern is fear that a COVID-19 vaccine has not been thoroughly tested. The results suggest that as frontline healthcare professionals are getting vaccinated, there is a critical window for healthcare organizations and the larger scientific community including science centers, life sciences companies, and academic institutions to communicate the technological advancements which allow for the rapid, yet safe and effective development of a variety of COVID vaccines.
While the faith community, elected officials and other local leaders can help facilitate communication around this issue, they should not be the primary spokespeople according to the poll. Rather, they can play an important role in bringing people together to hear from and engage with the medical experts the poll demonstrated people trust.
Key results from the poll include:
- 36 percent plan to take the vaccine right away, while 47 percent say they will wait until after either a few or many people have taken it. Just 7 percent say they will never take it.
38 percent of white residents say they will take the vaccine “as soon as possible” compared to 28 percent of Black residents and 22 percent of Latinx residents.
This number differs more when gender is factored in:
- White men: 44% White women: 31%
- Black men: 36% Black women: 19%
- Latino men: 23% Latina women: 21%
- This number differs more when gender is factored in:
- 80 percent say they completely or mostly trust their personal doctors to tell them when a vaccine works and is safe, the highest of any group
- 65 percent express concern that the vaccine has not been thoroughly tested, and 61 percent say they are reluctant to trust the government on healthcare issues, the two biggest concerns about taking the vaccine
Based on the poll results, the Museum of Science and Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers have identified a series of opportunities for the larger health and scientific communities to leverage:
- The larger science community can build trust with the public by sharing as much as possible on the development of vaccines. Paired with medical experts’ testimony, information on the technological breakthroughs that make rapid vaccine development safe, effective, and possible, will build confidence in the science.
- As the most trusted voice in vaccine information according to respondents, doctors have an opportunity to communicate their vaccine experience to their patients to build trust in the process.
- Elected officials, faith leaders, community groups, and healthcare organizations should convene the public early and often – with local doctors and other healthcare experts educating on the vaccine’s safety and larger community benefits for vaccination.
- Health practitioners and health centers can help identify individuals most likely not to have a personal physician and, if possible, create this relationship. This will both decrease their concerns and increase the likelihood they will take a vaccine.
The partners will convene a public event to discuss the results and recommendations on Monday, December 14, 2020. Registration is free and open to all.
The poll was conducted by the MassINC Polling Group, which surveyed 1,180 Massachusetts residents, including oversamples of Black and Latino residents. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish from November 18-25, 2020.
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