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About one-third of people who were hesitant last year to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are now willing to get the shot. Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
  • Researchers report that about a third of people who were hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine last year are now more willing to get vaccinated.
  • Another poll indicates that the Delta variant surge, the increase in hospitalizations, and personal knowledge of someone with COVID-19 were the major factors in convincing people to get vaccinated.
  • Experts note there’s a difference between people who are “anti-vaccine” and those who are vaccine hesitant.

Roughly a third of people who were hesitant to get vaccinated in 2020 are now willing to be inoculated against COVID-19.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that vaccine hesitancy decreased from late 2020 to early 2021, with 32 percent of people changing from vaccine hesitant to vaccine willing.

“Vaccine hesitancy is waning, yet inequities in receipt remain. There is a clear public health opportunity to convert higher vaccine willingness into successfully delivered vaccinations,” the study authors wrote.

Study participants were surveyed between August 9 and December 8, 2020, and surveyed again between March 2 and April 21, 2021.

Of those who reported they were vaccine hesitant in the first survey, 32 percent reported receiving one or more vaccine doses by the follow-up survey.

Another 37 percent said they were likely to be vaccinated in the near future, and 32 percent said they were unlikely to be vaccinated.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this week uncovered some reasons for the uptick in vaccinations.

In their survey, 39 percent of people vaccinated since June 1 said the surge of the Delta variant motivated them to get their shots. Another 38 percent said overcrowding in hospitals convinced them, while another 36 percent reported they knew someone who became seriously ill or died after developing COVID-19.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, said the results of the JAMA study are not surprising.

“That generally reflects the trends we’re seeing in the U.S. Over the last couple of months there have been more and more of these people who had previously been hesitant or skeptical who are accepting vaccination and this is continuing in a steady way,” Schaffner told Healthline.

“The arrival of the Delta variant has really meant that this virus has penetrated even to rural areas… and people are seeing their neighbors and friends admitted to the hospital with serious disease,” he added. “This is slowly persuading people that COVID-19 is not a myth.”

Right now, about 184 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, slightly more than 55 percent of the total U.S. population and 66 percent of adults. About 77 percent of adults have received at least one dose.

Dr. Dean A. Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UC Davis Children’s Hospital, said hesitancy toward the COVID-19 vaccines can at least in part be attributed to false information spread online.

“A lot of it has to do with misinformation where people voice their disapproval of the vaccines,” he told Healthline. “They talk about side effects that may not be actually true [or] concerns that may not be true.”

“For example, we’ve heard the one about how vaccines affect people’s fertility, and there’s just no scientific evidence about that,” he said.

“Usually these claims have a kernel of truth to them to make them sound valid, but most of the claim is invalid and not true,” Blumberg noted. “Since the smallpox vaccine was developed in the late 18th century, in the West there’s been vaccine hesitancy since then, so it’s been around for hundreds of years, but the intensity is certainly more these days. It’s amplified by social media and many false claims that have been made.”

The JAMA study found that baseline vaccine willingness was higher among those with a bachelor’s or graduate degree than those with a lower level of education.

Schaffner said this is reflective of a division across the United States.

“It reflects the great divide in our country… People who are more conservative tend to have less education. The more educated people are gathered in the cities where acceptance has been higher, and I think in general with more education there is more receptivity and acknowledgement of science,” he said.

Schaffner said people with less education generally have less exposure to science.

“They are not aware of it and they’re wary of it,” he explained. “[The study] does indicate that still a very substantial proportion of the population remains unconvinced to get vaccinated and that continues to be public health issue number one.”

With the Delta variant continuing to spread across the country, Blumberg said it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

“At this point in the pandemic, considering the highly transmissible Delta variant is the main strain circulating in the U.S., if you haven’t been vaccinated, and you haven’t been infected yet, you will be infected, so one way or another everybody is going to get some sort of partial immunity. It’s just much safer to get it by getting it in a controlled way by getting it in a vaccine,” he explained.

Blumberg said there is a difference between being vaccine hesitant and anti-vaccine.

He argues those who are entirely against vaccinations will demonize everything about every kind of vaccine, as well as deny COVID-19 is a problem.

Those who are vaccine hesitant are more likely to have had some vaccinations in their life and may be scared about certain aspects of the vaccines.

“Those are people who might be seeking additional information,” he said. “Everybody has their own individual concerns. I would encourage people to talk to their own healthcare providers, their trusted healthcare providers, and then to seek information from reliable sources such as the CDC [and] the FDA.”

A study published today indicated that the best way to persuade those who are hesitant to get vaccinated is to discuss the reduction in the risk of death as opposed to discussing the reduction in symptoms and the potential for hospitalization.

When having a conversation with someone who is vaccine hesitant, Schaffner said it’s important not to criticize those who have doubts.

“The first thing I always tell people is not to disparage the vaccine hesitant,” he said. “I think you have to acknowledge that hesitancy and skepticism. A need for information is valid.”

“Even though by now virtually every question is well-answered, nonetheless you have to acknowledge that, and then ask them what their particular concern is and whether they would be interested in having a discussion about that particular concern,” he explained.

“Providing information is foundational. Psychologists have told us that information is rarely sufficient to change behavior. You have to change not just how people think, but [how they] feel about the subject. They have to feel comfortable and reassured,” Schaffner added.