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Vaccination hesitancy

Vaccine makers reassured Congress on Feb. 23 they will boost production and provide an additional 140 million doses in the next five weeks, overcoming the production bottlenecks that have crimped the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. The next hurdle is vaccine hesitancy. Opinion surveys show the United States is drawing closer to the goal of broad public acceptance, but there is a ways to go. Every effort must be made to administer the vaccines as widely as possible.

A pair of polls by Gallup and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research show that from a low point last autumn, more Americans intend to get vaccinated or already have been. The AP-NORC poll showed 67 percent of those asked responded they are willing or already inoculated, while Gallup found 71 percent are willing, the highest on record and up from only 50 percent last September. The goal of a high level of vaccination is to reach immunity for enough people that the virus cannot spread. That –herd immunity– might require as many as 80 percent of the population to get vaccinated.

The bad news is the still-troubling and stubborn cohort that is reluctant to get vaccinated. According to Gallup, among those unwilling, 25 percent say they have concerns about the rushed timeline, but the percentage giving this response has dropped by 12 points since the question was last asked in the fall. Twenty-two percent say they want to wait and confirm it is safe, 16 percent do not trust vaccines in general, and 9 percent want to see how effective it is. Twenty-eight percent give other reasons, such as they think the risks of the virus are overblown, believe they already have antibodies, are concerned about adverse reactions to the vaccine or harbor a general distrust of the government.

The AP-NORC poll found that younger Americans are more hesitant than the elderly; 4 in 10 of those under 45 say they will probably or definitely not get a vaccine, compared with a quarter of those older. Among Black Americans, 57 percent said they would get or have been vaccinated, compared with 68 percent among White Americans and 65 percent of Hispanics. Hesitancy is also stronger among people without a college degree.

The vaccine rollout has not been smooth, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the hesitancy. But the announcement that large supplies are on the way should alleviate these concerns, if the shots materialize as promised. Moreover, a third vaccine, by Johnson & Johnson, has been approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration. The government and all others who hope to end the pandemic should devote more effort to overcoming vaccine hesitancy, including launching a nationwide vaccine awareness campaign. The shots appear to be highly effective. They are a lifesaver to those vulnerable to this disease, which is still spreading and infecting people every day. There is no good reason not to get jabbed.

* Guest editorial by the Washington Post.

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