Fewer than half of Hawaii residents currently plan to take a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available, according to a University of Hawaii poll released this week.
A UH community impact survey conducted throughout November gauged statewide attitudes toward the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s response, with 54% of respondents believing the pandemic will worsen in the next several months.
Despite this, only 44% of respondents said they expect to take a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available, with an additional 37% unsure whether they will or not.
The degree of public confidence in a vaccine appears to have decreased since August, when a similar survey found that 51% of Hawaii residents planned to be vaccinated.
Dan Brinkman, East Hawaii Regional CEO, Hawaii Health Systems Corp., said internal polling among Hawaii Medical Center found similar numbers — of the 643 employees who responded, 44% said they would take the vaccine, with 28% undecided.
Hawaii residents’ attitudes toward a vaccine appear even less positive than those nationwide. A survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in Chicago found that only about half of Americans plan on being vaccinated.
Based on public attitudes, it may be difficult to distribute the vaccine widely enough among Americans to develop herd immunity, wherein the number of people in a community who are immune to a disease is large enough that most people who lack immunity are protected from the spread of the disease.
“I think people have said we need 60% to 70% of people to be vaccinated to develop herd immunity,” Brinkman said. “But it’s not like there’s no benefit if less than that are vaccinated.”
Brinkman said he believes people’s reluctance to take the vaccine is based on several concerns that can be alleviated with time.
For example, he said, the speed at which the vaccine has been developed has some people worried about its safety and potential side effects, while others are skittish to be an “early adopter” of an unproven program.
Others, Brinkman conceded, might also be influenced by underlying unscientific suspicions regarding vaccines or by recent politics, which framed the threat of COVID-19 and the efficacy of a vaccine as a partisan issue.
According to the UH survey, 26% of those who said they would not take the vaccine were Republicans, while only 7% who said they wouldn’t were Democrats.
However, Brinkman said herd immunity can be reached if those who are undecided can be convinced of the vaccine’s safety, which should become obvious after early phases of the vaccination rollout are successful.
“If there are no immediate side effects, if nobody’s growing horns, people should start to come around,” Brinkman said, adding that as prominent people worldwide endorse the vaccine, it should be more widely accepted.
Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that the state will conduct an independent assessment of any vaccine that will be distributed throughout the state to ease any concerns about its safety.
“It’s unfortunate that the vaccine has become a political issue during this election,” Ige said. “I feel comfortable that the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) did not cut any corners in reviewing the vaccine candidates.”
Other public attitudes toward the pandemic revealed by the U.S. survey include:
• 53% of state residents do not want tourists visiting their communities right now, a decrease from 82% in August.
• 50% of residents are confident in the state’s pre-travel testing program, while 47% are not confident.
• 60% of residents agree that the pandemic has disproportionately affected poor communities, while 47% believe the pandemic is increasing inequality in the state. Despite this, only 28% of Hawaii’s poorest households intend to take the vaccine, compared to 56% of households with incomes above $150,000 that intend to do the same.
• 53% of residents are unsatisfied with the government’s enforcement of coronavirus guidelines, but 58% are satisfied with community adherence to the same guidelines.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.