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Unvaccinated Americans say COVID vaccines are riskier than virus, even as Delta skyrockets among them

When asked what poses a greater risk to their health, more unvaccinated Americans say the COVID-19 vaccines than the virus itself, according to a new Yahoo News / YouGov poll – an opinion that contradicts all science and data available and highlights the challenges that the United States will continue to face as it struggles to stop a growing “unvaccinated pandemic” driven by the hyper-contagious Delta variant.

The survey of 1,715 American adults, conducted July 13-15, found that only 29% of unvaccinated Americans believe the virus poses a greater risk to their health than vaccines – significantly less than the number who believe that vaccines pose the greatest health risk (37 percent) or say they are not safe (34 percent).

In the past 18 months, COVID-19 has killed more than 4.1 million people globally, including more than 600,000 in the United States At the same time, more than 2 billion people worldwide – and more of 186 million Americans – have been at least partially vaccinated against the virus, and scientists studying the data on their reported side effects continue to find that the vaccines are extraordinarily safe.

Unvaccinated Americans say COVID vaccines are riskier than virus, even as Delta skyrockets among them

A supporter of President Donald Trump holds an anti-vaccine placard on January 5 during a protest at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC (Erin Scott / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Yet 93% of unvaccinated American adults – the equivalent of 76 million people – say they will “never” be vaccinated (51%); that they will continue to wait “to see what happens to others before deciding” (20%); or that they are not sure (22 percent).

Delta quickly becoming nationally dominant, COVID-19 cases in the United States have increased 140% in the past two weeks. Hospitalizations and deaths – two lagging indicators – have increased by a third over the same period. Missouri, Arkansas, Nevada and Florida are particularly affected, with hospitalization rates reaching 2-3 times the national average. Almost all Americans who get sick, are hospitalized, and die – 99%, by some estimates – are not vaccinated. And more than half of the American population (52%) has not yet been fully immunized.

As the Delta variant increases among the unvaccinated and counties such as Los Angeles reinstate indoor mask mandates to try to avoid it, Yahoo News and YouGov have sought to understand why so many Americans continue to suspend the vaccination – and if the increase in Delta could change anything minds.

The results are complicated. Some unvaccinated Americans recognize the growing threat from Delta. The proportion of people worried about the variant has increased by 9 percentage points (from 25 to 34%) since last month. Yet the share of unvaccinated Americans who report being do not worried about Delta is bigger, and it’s grown almost as much (from 31 percent to 39 percent).

As such, only half of the unvaccinated say that Delta poses “a serious risk” to “all Americans” (33%) or “unvaccinated Americans” (17%); the other half say that the variant poses no serious risk to anyone (30%) or that they are not sure (20%). In contrast, 85% of Americans vaccinated – and 72% of all Americans – say Delta poses a serious risk.

Yet while unvaccinated Americans are relatively dismissive of the dangers of Delta – which have been amply proven by massive epidemics in India and elsewhere – they tend to set a much lower bar on COVID vaccines. When asked to choose the ‘most important reason’ why they were not vaccinated, for example, few say they do not have ‘easy access to vaccination’ (4%) , “Cannot take time off work” (3%) or “had already had COVID” (9%). Others say they don’t worry about receiving COVID (12%) or – much more frequently – that they don’t trust COVID vaccines (45%).

Unvaccinated Americans say COVID vaccines are riskier than virus, even as Delta skyrockets among them

Vaccine protesters gather at Indiana University’s Sample Gates for a protest. (Jeremy Hogan / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images)

But why? The most important reason, according to 37% of unvaccinated Americans, is that they are “concerned about long-term side effects.” Next are “I don’t trust the government” (17%), “The vaccines are too new” (16%), “The FDA has not yet fully approved the vaccines” (11%) and “I don’t. trust no vaccine ”(6 percent).

The problem for public health officials is twofold. First, despite the fact that there is no precedent in vaccine history for serious side effects appearing several months after dosing, let alone years – and no mechanism by which COVID vaccines would trigger such effects. secondary – it is difficult to convince skeptics that this time will be no different. Meanwhile, the pandemic continues and time is running out.

Second, when unvaccinated skeptics are asked to select “all” of the reasons they don’t trust COVID vaccines – as opposed to the “most important” – many select all of them. Seventy percent say they are concerned about long-term side effects; 60 percent say the vaccines are too recent; 55 percent say they don’t trust the government; 50 percent say they are concerned about short-term side effects; 45 percent say the FDA has yet to fully approve the vaccines; 45 percent say they don’t trust drug companies; and 26% say they don’t trust any vaccine. Hesitation, in other words, could turn into a mole game: address one concern and another pops up just to replace it.

It remains to be seen whether Delta’s impact softens some of that resistance. Fifteen percent of unvaccinated Americans say the spread of Delta makes them more likely to get the vaccine, especially Democrats (34%) and Latinos (34%). Still 12% of unvaccinated Americans actually say Delta makes them less likely to get vaccinated, and 73% say it makes “no difference”.

Digging deeper, 20 percent of unvaccinated Americans say they would be “much more” (10 percent) or “a little more” (10 percent) likely to get vaccinated “if COVID cases start to increase among unvaccinated people in [their] surface “; the same goes for the increase in hospitalizations and local deaths. Similarly, 27% of unvaccinated Americans say they would either be much more (12%) or a little more (15%) likely to get vaccinated when the FDA fully approves COVID vaccines, which are currently cleared for emergency use to fight the pandemic.

Full FDA approval is not expected until next year. In contrast, COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths are already on the rise. We’ll see if either one makes a difference.


The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,715 American adults surveyed online from July 13 to 15, 2021. This sample was weighted by gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the United States Census Bureau, as well as the 2020 presidential vote (or not) and enrollment status voters. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all American adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.


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