Why aren’t some Americans getting vaccinated against COVID-19? Often, it’s a lack of trust

September 30, 2021, 6:18 PM UTC

Why aren’t tens of millions of eligible Americans fully vaccinated against COVID-19? Most who haven’t started the vaccination process say it’s a matter of trust. 

After vaccination drives, incentives, and now mandates, 17% of adults in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll claim they won’t get vaccinated. Another 11% say they aren’t sure yet what they will do.

As has been the case for months, being unvaccinated and unsure of getting vaccinated continues to be more common among Republicans than Democrats, among Black Democrats than white Democrats, and among people in the Midwest and South than among people in the Northeast and West.

Given a list of possible reasons for not getting vaccinated, people often cited a lack of trust. The No. 1 single answer is worry about side effects. In previous polls, the unvaccinated have overwhelmingly believed (by more than five to one) that a side effect from the vaccine was a bigger risk for them than contracting COVID-19. But even more say, across several answer options, that they lack trust – in vaccines, in drug companies, or in the government.

Lack of trust is an especially big reason for Republicans to forgo the vaccine. Independents are more likely to cite side effects. The vast majority of Democrats (79%) are fully vaccinated, leaving far fewer in the poll who are unvaccinated – too few for significant results about their motivation. 

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Americans who are sure they will not get the vaccine are especially likely to say their lack of trust in the government is their major reason for rejecting the vaccine. People who are debating whether or not to get vaccinated are most likely to cite a concern about side effects. A few unvaccinated adults say they are avoiding the vaccine because they have had COVID-19. People who say they definitely will not get vaccinated are more likely to say they have tested positive for COVID-19: 14%, compared to 10% for Americans overall.

This poll also offered unvaccinated people an open-ended question where respondents could use their own words to explain why they don’t plan to be vaccinated. Respondents continue to volunteer their lack of trust in the vaccine and in those who make or promote it. Many have doubts about the science and claim their own natural immunity – either because they practice good health measures or they have already had COVID-19. Some simply don’t believe in the severity of the virus. 

The lack of trust among unvaccinated people affects their opinion about medical personnel and agencies in government who have offered advice about COVID-19. There is no official polled who is trusted for medical advice by a majority of unvaccinated people. 

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The two federal agencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, get good evaluations from Americans overall. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the Centers for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, rates slightly lower but well. Only about half of Americans have any opinion at all about Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between September 26 - 28, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.7% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty