About 30% of Kentucky adults said in late winter that they probably or definitely wouldn’t take the coronavirus vaccine, but half of those people said they would be open to changing their mind if given more time and information, according to a poll taken for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
The poll, among Kentucky adults Feb. 11 to March 12, was taken to learn more about Kentuckians’ opinions on coronavirus vaccines and about their intentions to take one or not. At the time, Kentucky was only vaccinating people over 60 and some others such as health workers and first responders.
Now, anyone 16 and older can get a shot, and more than 1.6 million Kentuckians have received at least one dose of a vaccine. That’s about 50% of Kentucky adults, Foundation CEO Ben Chandler said.
The poll found that 19% said they would definitely not get a vaccination and 10% said they would probably not. Those groups were asked, “Once more people in the U.S. start receiving vaccines for the coronavirus and there is more information about it , would you say it is possible you would decide to get a vaccine, or you are pretty certain that you would decide not to get a vaccine?”
Just over half, 51%, said they would. In reporting the results of this question, the foundation and the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati , which conducted the poll, combined the “probably not” and “definitely not” groups and did not provide results for each group.
Chandler called the result good news and said it is key to Kentucky’s chances of reaching herd immunity, which will provide some protection for people unwilling or unable to get a coronavirus vaccine. “We need these folks in order to get there,” he said in a teleconference.
The foundation’s poll is consistent with national polls that have also found Republicans, men and rural residents are more reluctant than other groups to take a coronavirus vaccine.
The combined “probably not” and “definitely not” group in the Kentucky poll was more likely to be male, Republican, and to live in suburban or rural communities.
Among those who said they were willing to change their minds, 47% were Republicans, 50% were suburban, 53% were rural, and 53% were high-school graduates.
The less formal education a person had, the more likely they were to say that they would definitely or probably not get a vaccination.
On the other side of the coin, 76% of women, 87% of Democrats, 70% of independents, 80% of those living in urban areas and 81% of college graduates said they had already taken a vaccine or intended to.
The poll found that 71% of Kentucky adults had already been vaccinated or planned on getting a vaccine. Chandler said if all of them follows through, it would get us “right at the edge of what we need to achieve herd immunity here in Kentucky,” with 70% to 85% of the population vaccinated.
Chandler also spoke about the importance of reaching herd immunity before the virus mutates to the point that the vaccine is no longer effective.
“If this virus mutates and is allowed to continue to produce these variants, at some point, there’s a tremendous concern that the variants may outpace the vaccine and inhibit the efficacy of the vaccine,” he said
Looking at motivation, the survey found Kentucky adults were evenly split on whether getting a coronavirus vaccine is a personal choice or is part of everyone’s responsibility to protect the health of the community.
Those who saw it as a personal choice were more likely to lack a high-school graduation, identify as Republican or independents, and live in rural communities.
Democrats, the college-educated and people in urban communities were more likely to see getting the vaccine as a community responsibility.
“This data will inform how we reach out to people to encourage more Kentuckians to roll up their leaves and get vaccinated,” Chandler said.
Chandler and Allison Adams, vice-president for policy at the foundation, said the the final push to get Kentuckians vaccinated will depend on what happens at the local level and that the information found in this poll can help local communities target their messaging.
“How do we dig deeper into finding those trusted community messengers?” Adams asked. “We know that there are social influences in all 120 counties of Kentucky. So, how do we continue to launch this public campaign of recruiting folks to receive the vaccine?”
Chandler said, “We’re going to have to dig this out, I think, at the local level. We’re going to continue to have to involve local public-health officials and leaders throughout the communities. We’re going to have to point people throughout the state to the people that they see as trusted messengers — and not just the message, but the messenger. “
He said those include faith leaders, local public-health officials, vaccine skeptics’ primary-care providers, and residents of the community who have gotten the vaccine and have some faith among skeptics.
“We’ve got to encourage those people to speak out about this to their local communities,” he said. “It’s not going to be enough, frankly, for the government to just sit there and tell them that they need to get the vaccine, because of the distrust. You’ve got to engage and employ other folks in the community and employ them in a major way in my judgment.”
Asked why Republicans, rural people and the less educated are more likely to say they will not get a vaccine and are more motivated by personal choice than community responsibility, Chandler said much of that has to do with where they get their information about the vaccines.
“I think a lot of it has to do frankly with the messages that they received,” Chandler said. “We have a very splintered media environment now in this country and different groups of people — and this has been well-documented — different groups of people get different media from different sources.”
Further, Chandler said there are groups that oppose vaccination and elected leaders who don’t push it as they should, with some even sowing doubt about the vaccine and the virus itself in people’s minds. “I think that’s a big problem,” he said.
Other findings in the poll:
- Of those reporting excellent or very good health status, 52% said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated; 33% said they probably or definitely would not; and 15% said they had already received a vaccine at the time of the poll.
- Older people were more likely to have already received or intended to get a shot, and 37% of Kentucky adults under 45 said they probably or definitely would not get one.
- At the time of the poll, Kentucky adults living in an urban county were twice as likely to have already received a vaccine compared to those living in a suburban or rural county. Adults living in suburban and rural counties were twice as likely to say they would definitely not get a coronavirus vaccine if it was made available to them, compared to adults living in urban counties.
The poll questioned a random sample of 807 Kentucky adults in landline and cellphone interviews. Its error margin is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The foundation said it plans to survey the same people later this year.
The foundation and its partners have launched two campaigns to encourage Kentuckians to get vaccinated: the I Got the Shot campaign and the Take it From Me campaign.
(Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.)