The 400,000 US COVID-19 deaths touch nearly three in 10 Americans 

January 22, 2021, 7:10 PM UTC

Three in ten adults (29%) have a close friend or family member who has died from COVID-19, making the 400,000 deaths from the pandemic a personal reality for an increasing number of Americans. 

The latest Economist/YouGov poll underscores the racial and ethnic differences in the impact of the virus: many more Black Americans (39%) and Hispanic Americans (42%) than white Americans (26%) have experienced the death of a friend or loved one. There is some overlap with some Americans having lost both friends and family, so individual figures for both groups don’t sum to the netted rate.

In general, people who know someone who has died from the coronavirus are more willing to be vaccinated. More than half (54%) of those who have had a close contact die from the virus say they will get the vaccine, but just 45% who have not experienced the death of a loved one say the same.  

Many others are still deciding whether or not to get the vaccine, or flatly say they will not be vaccinated. This week, 51% overall say they will be vaccinated (47%) or have already been vaccinated (4%), the highest figure ever in Economist/YouGov polls. The second-highest percentage, 50%, occurred in late November after announcements that vaccines had proved successful and safe. Since then, a few groups of high-risk individuals have already been vaccinated.  

However, most Black Americans, one of the groups hardest hit by the virus, either do not want to get vaccinated (23%) or are uncertain (36%). About two in five (41%) want to or already have gotten the vaccine. Whether or not a Black respondent is close to someone who has died from the virus doesn’t significantly affect their willingness to be vaccinated. Just two in five Black Americans (45%) who are close to someone who has died and two in five of those who are not (40%) say they will or already have gotten the vaccine.  

Republicans are far more resistant than Democrats to being vaccinated. Two in three Democrats (69%) will or have gotten the vaccine, compared to two in five Republicans (43%). A majority of senior citizens (62%), who are already being vaccinated in many states, will accept the vaccine.  

One problem Americans have with the vaccine is availability. Only a third (34%) believe there will be enough doses to vaccinate everyone in the country who wants to be vaccinated. Trust that there will be enough doses is highest among senior citizens (41%) and Republicans (46%), though less than half in these groups expect there to be enough doses for all who want it. Black Americans are especially wary: just 24% think there will be enough vaccine for all. More than a third of the public say it is likely that the “government is rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine slowly on purpose.” 

There are other worries about the COVID-19 vaccine. Three in five are at least somewhat concerned about the safety of the fast-track development process for the new vaccines. But there are other more serious suspicions too, some of which piggyback on the anti-vaccine movement that has expanded in the last few decades.  

One in four say it is probably or definitely true (26%) that vaccines cause autism, a charge that has been discredited by many scientists, but which has been a critical underpinning of the anti-vaccine movement. 

A similar number think it likely the COVID-19 vaccine can cause infertility (23%), alters DNA (24%), and is being used to microchip the population (22%). More Republicans than Democrats believe each of these statements are true.  

Related: What do Americans think Joe Biden will achieve as president? 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll  

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 16 - 19, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.8% for the overall sample.   

Image: Getty