Vaccine resistance is fading, except where it’s not

A new survey finds Kansans are not as reluctant to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but it's difficult to reach a core population who still resist.



June 2, 2021 - 9:43 AM

A sign advertises vaccine availability outside a grocery store in Hays. Photo by DAVID CONDOS / KANSAS NEWS SERVICE

New survey results show that reluctance to get COVID-19 vaccinations has dropped in Kansas.

At the same time, worries about vaccine side effects seem to be increasing.

Federal statistics analyzed by the Kansas Health Institute, or KHI, show that roughly 22% of Kansan adults reported feeling uncertain about getting the vaccine in April. That’s down from 30% in March and 47% in January. (KHI, like the Kansas News Service, gets significant support from the Kansas Health Foundation.)

It’s the first analysis of data from the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey since Kansas opened up vaccine access to all adults at the end of March. And it shows that more than three quarters of Kansas respondents had either gotten their shot or planned to do so.

“We already see that people who are excited about the (vaccine efficacy) data are getting the vaccine,” said KHI analyst Emily Burgen. “We’re mostly concerned about those who are uncertain.”

Burgen said that the next phase of vaccination efforts should give people space to ask detailed questions and take the time to address their specific concerns in a nonjudgmental way. And as more of the vaccine rollout shifts into the doctor’s office, that could offer people more opportunities to have one-on-one conversations with a trusted health care professional.

“To me,” Burgen said, “it comes back to sharing factual information and having those conversations.”

Reasons for concern

Gretchen Homan, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita, said that the best route to addressing a patients’ worries about the vaccine is often the most simple and direct one.

“Listen to what they’re concerned about, talk about what you’ve learned and … explain why it’s so important,” Homan said. “They just want to hear confidence from you.”

But as the pool of people still hesitant about the vaccine shrinks, the barriers to reaching those who remain unconvinced get bigger. The number of survey respondents who said they were concerned about possible vaccine side effects increased by 15 percentage points compared to the previous month, from 49% to 64%.

The survey also reported increases in the number of people who listed a lack of trust in the government and a belief that COVID-19 is not a serious illness among their reasons for vaccine reluctance. Roughly half of respondents said concerns about vaccine safety were keeping them from getting the shot.

And the number of people who may be open to learning more about the vaccine also appears to be dwindling. Of the 22% of people who remain uncertain, roughly 8% said they would definitely not get a vaccine — a figure that has remained steady since January.

Some of the concerns highlighted in the survey, however, could be more easily addressed. Roughly 7% of people said they hadn’t gotten the vaccine because their doctor had not recommended it, which is something Emily Burgen of KHI said many doctors might not have thought of. And nearly 10% listed the cost of the vaccine as a barrier.

“That’s just a public health messaging (issue),” Bergen said. “The cost to (get) the vaccine is free.”