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Polling shows more than 16% of Delawareans may not get COVID-19 vaccine

Meredith Newman
Delaware News Journal

More than 16% of Delawareans said they "definitely" or "probably" won't receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a state survey.

About 5,700 residents were polled in mid-December, leading to what may be the most extensive report on how Delawareans feel about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Among the respondents, 70% said they would receive the vaccine and 13.2% indicated they “probably” would get the vaccines. About 9.2% of those surveyed said they would “definitely not” get the vaccine, and 7.5% responded with “probably not.”

In the two months since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in Delaware, the state has distributed nearly 160,000 doses. Federal and state officials have implored people to get the vaccine, expressing extreme confidence in its safety and effectiveness.

Cassondra Williams of Bayard School receives the COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccine event for educators in a former grocery store at Naamans and Foulk Roads Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

The vaccine is seen as the best way to protect oneself – and others –  from contracting the virus. 

Vaccine supply and distributing doses equitably are among the biggest issues facing Delaware's distribution efforts. Part of the issue is some residents are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

Many teachers, first responders and even health care workers are among Delawareans who are reluctant to receive the vaccine – or have little interest in receiving it.

BACKGROUND:Delaware teachers say vaccines are needed to safely reopen schools, yet some are unsure

"We really are very confident ... that the acceleration of vaccination is going to increase significantly over the coming weeks," Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said last month about vaccine hesitancy around the holidays. 

This week, Gov. John Carney admitted the state has, anecdotally, seen vaccine hesitancy in health care workers.

In the state survey, the top vaccine concern was that it was “developed too fast and not tested enough,” followed by worries about side effects and lack of trust in government.

Other reasons included concerns about breastfeeding and pregnancy as well as fears about long-term effects. 

Dr. Paul Offit, the Maurice R. Hilleman chair of vaccinology at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, believes one of the biggest concerns many Americans have is that the long-term effects are unknown.

WRITE US A LETTER:What will you take away from your COVID-19 pandemic experience? Send us your stories

"At some level, that's fair to a point, but we've reached that point, we're well past that point," Offit said. He pointed to how millions of people have received the vaccine and there have been few serious safety concerns. 

In the survey, when asked about confidence in the vaccine being safe and effective, 48.3% of residents said they have a "great deal" of confidence while 36.2% said a "fair amount. 

Ten percent of respondents said "not much," and 5.5% responded by saying none at all. 

When asked about messages that could influence their decision to get a vaccine, 47.5% of respondents said a statistical/data-driven approach would be most effective.

Respondents also noted that having their doctor recommend the vaccine and learning more about the science could influence them to get the vaccine. 

Of the 5,700 respondents, about 86% were white while 4% were Hispanic or Latino and less than 2% were Black — vastly disproportionate to the makeup of the state.

A vast majority of the survey participants were women, and about 60% had a bachelor's degree or higher. 

Jennifer Brestel, spokeswoman for the Division of Public Health, said the state is holding focus groups to better inform education efforts, though the results of these groups have yet to be completed. 

Spent vials of the Pfizer vaccine are lined up during a COVID-19 vaccine event for educators in a former grocery store at Naamans and Foulk Roads Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

These groups are focusing on consumer perceptions of the vaccine, hesitancy and where people are getting their information, she said. There is also a focus on underserved communities.

The findings from the survey are in line with many national surveys. According to an Associated Press poll, published recently, 15% of Americans said they're sure they won't get the vaccine and 17% say they probably won't.

Of those who said they won't get vaccinated, 65% were worried about side effects and don't trust the vaccine. About 38% said they didn't need the vaccines, don't know whether it will work or don't trust the government. 

Offit, who is also director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said polling about the vaccine has been moving in a positive direction. This shows, he said, that when more information is available, more people are getting convinced.

But this likely won't apply to those who have extreme and inaccurate beliefs, particularly those who subscribe to unfounded conspiracy theories. 

"If someone is a conspiracy theorist, then forget it," Offit said. "As Neil deGrasse Tyson says, 'If someone reaches a conclusion without using reason or logic, reason and logic is not going to talk them out of it.'"

Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or at mnewman@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MereNewman.