By Andrew Keshner
The share of Americans who want to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated has been shrinking, according to Kaiser Family Foundation surveys.
Almost six months after Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +0.85% received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its COVID-19 vaccine, the company said Tuesday it is now seeking full FDA approval for a shot that’s been delivered 124 million times in America.
Is full FDA approval the vote of confidence that many reluctant Americans need to see before they get the shot?
Time will tell, but at least one new poll suggests it’s possible: 32% of unvaccinated adults told pollsters that full FDA approval would make them more inclined to get their shots, according to the latest installment of polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation on public attitudes about COVID-19 vaccines.
The latest edition of the survey was released on Friday, May 28. The poll found 62% of adults saying they’ve either been vaccinated or are planning to be vaccinated, up from 56% in April.
As of Tuesday, 51.7% of America’s adult population was fully vaccinated and 62.8% had received at least one dose, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are persistent challenges with vaccine hesitancy. Case in point: 13% of people who say they definitely will not get vaccinated, which is “essentially unchanged over the last several months,” the new Kaiser Family Foundation poll said.
As for full FDA approval, “I don’t think it’s going to have a major impact,” said Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, a foundation that’s focused on public health matters and public opinion around the vaccine.
(Castrucci spoke to MarketWatch in May, following the Pfizer-BioNTech announcement that it is seeking full FDA approval.)
Still, he added, any FDA approval addresses one concern he commonly hears in focus groups: that vaccines are supposedly untested and have been introduced to the public with too little scrutiny. “This will be one less arrow in the concern quiver,” he said.
“There are some people who could be convinced to get it once it’s approved by the FDA,” Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said last month prior to the foundation’s release of its latest polling.
The foundation’s survey is the latest installment in an ongoing poll on public attitudes toward the vaccine that asked an open-ended question to people who said they were open to getting it, but hadn’t yet scheduled an appointment.
Meanwhile, the number of people in a “wait and see” frame of mind on the vaccine has been shrinking, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s ongoing tracker of public attitudes. 12% of people had a “wait and see” approach in May, versus 15% in April, down from 39% in December.
Some 44% of the people in this demographic said they’d be nudged into vaccination with an FDA full approval, the poll showed.
The question is how many more people, at this point, are open to getting the shot at some point in the future.
“The ‘hard no’ group has been really consistent since December,” Hamel noted.The Pfizer-BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -0.53% vaccine, the Moderna vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -1.27% vaccine are all being used on the public after the FDA granted emergency use authorization. Last month, the FDA said 12- to 15-year olds could receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The emergency use authorization process isn’t any less stringent than full approval, according a blog post by Dr. Malia Jones, an associate scientist in health geography working at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Applied Population Laboratory. “It is made based on sound scientific data. It’s just not as large a dataset as would be submitted for a full FDA approval,” she wrote .
The distinction has taken on importance in other parts of the vaccination debate. Lawsuits challenging employers requiring workers to be vaccinated all premise their legal arguments on the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines are available to the public via emergency use authorization. The cases are pending.
Whenever full FDA approval comes, Castrucci foresees a potential argument for the skeptics being “well, see that’s just the government telling us it’s safe.” That’s the challenge when it comes to vaccine hesitancy, he said. “There are groups of people who are just hellbent on spreading misinformation and warping facts to erode confidence in these vaccines to prolong the pandemic.”
It’s getting to the point where no single line of argument, strategy or occurrence is going to sway hesitant people, Castrucci and Hamel said.
Castrucci said it’s important to “stop blaming and shaming” and instead be sure reluctant Americans hear about the importance of the vaccination from credible messengers. He said that boils down to the five ‘P’s’ — physicians, pharmacists, parents, peers and pastors.
“The more people get vaccinated, the closer we get to the point of the unmovable no,” he said. Still, he added, “this is not a sprint, this is a marathon.”
Some people may be holding out for reasons that have nothing to do with skepticism in the science, Hamel noted.
Of the people who had concerns about being vaccinated in the April edition of the Kaiser poll, 48% said they were worried about side effects that would force them to miss work. In the May edition of the poll, 21% of unvaccinated working adults say they’d more inclined to get their shots if their employer offered paid time off.
(The CDC notes common side effects can include pain, fatigue and chills, especially after the second shot.)
The vaccine is free for everyone, but in the April polling 32% still said they were worried about out-of-pocket costs. The people voicing these financial concerns were often Black and Hispanic, Hamel said. She and others say that’s an access problem , instead of demand.When it comes to getting people to vaccination sites now, Hamel said, “we are at the stage where most interventions are going to be moving smaller percentages … Now is the time every tool in the toolbox needs to come out.”
This story was originally published on May 7 and updated on June 2.