Is it acceptable to take a COVID vaccine that will be thrown out?

Linley SandersSenior Data Journalist
March 22, 2021, 1:42 PM UTC

If you are offered a COVID-19 vaccine ahead of your eligibility, should you take it? As the speed of COVID vaccination distribution increases across the United States, more Americans are facing chances to get vaccinated ahead of schedule because of unclaimed doses that would otherwise expire.

Ethicists have argued that people should accept a COVID-19 vaccine if it is offered them, regardless of their broader eligibility because it helps increase herd immunity. But this is not a universally accepted belief. A new YouGov poll finds that seven in 10 Americans (69%) who want to get vaccinated say it is acceptable to take a vaccine that would otherwise expire and be thrown out, but one-quarter (25%) say this is unacceptable.  

Opinion aside, it is certainly happening. One in eight Americans (12%) say they know someone who did not yet qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine where they lived but accepted a vaccine that would have otherwise expired. Members of Generation Z and Millennials (15%) are especially likely to know someone who got vaccinated this way, compared to Generation X (11%) and Baby Boomers or older (9%). 

Americans say it is acceptable to volunteer in exchange for a vaccine 

Other Americans are signing up for an early vaccination by serving as volunteers at mass vaccination clinics in exchange for a jab. Most Americans find this practice acceptable: seven in 10 who want to get vaccinated (70%) believe it is justifiable to trade volunteer work for an early COVID-19 vaccine, but one-quarter (24%) disagree.   

Those who live in the West — where volunteer-for-vaccination clinics are more common — are especially likely to say it is acceptable (70% vs 20%), compared to those in the Northeast (63% vs 23%), Midwest (62% vs 29%), and South (57% vs 29%). As mass vaccination clinics continue to expand and add volunteers, it could become a more common practice: currently only 9% of Americans know someone who has done this.  

Americans tend to frown on crossing state lines for a COVID-19 vaccine 

With vaccine qualifications varying in every state, some people who are on the hunt for vaccines are crossing state lines into places where they do qualify. This so-called “vaccine tourism” has made it desirable for Americans to travel to other countries or regions for inoculation. Americans who are already vaccinated or intend to get the shot tend to disapprove (56%) of people leaving their home state for a COVID-19 vaccine, but two in five (41%) say this is acceptable.  

Generation Z and Millennials (12%) are especially likely to know someone who did not qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine where they lived but went to another state where they were eligible. Just one in 20 Gen X’ers (5%) and 4% of Baby Boomers or older know someone who was vaccinated through vaccine tourism. 

Americans say it is unacceptable to get a COVID-19 vaccine through lying or bribery  

Certain essential workers and qualifying medical conditions were among the first Americans made eligible for the COVID-19. In order to get vaccinated, some individuals falsely claimed to be essential workers or to have a qualifying medical condition. Others have used vaccine appointment access codes for impacted communities that were not intended for them, while other Americans have offered bribes to vaccine providers.   

Most Americans who intend to get vaccinated disapprove of each of these behaviors. Four in five say it is unacceptable to impersonate an essential worker (85%), falsely claim to have a qualifying medical condition (83%), offer a bribe to a doctor or pharmacist (83%) or use a vaccine appointment access code that was intended for someone else (81%). Around one in eight Americans who intend to get vaccinated believe these are acceptable ways to get the shot. 

Millennials and Generation Z are especially likely to say they know someone who did not qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine but obtained one by falsely claiming to be an essential worker (10%), using an appointment code that was not meant for them (10%), falsely claiming to have a qualifying medical condition (9%), or offering a bribe to a vaccine provider (6%).

See the toplines and crosstabs from this YouGov poll 

Methodology: There were 1178 US adults surveyed in this YouGov poll, which was conducted online from March 12 – 15, 2021. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+). 

Image: Getty

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