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Poll Finds Only 51% Of Missourians Would Get A Coronavirus Vaccine

Matt Miller | Washington University School of Medicine

Nearly half of Missourians polled by St. Louis University and the survey organization YouGov said they wouldn’t get a coronavirus vaccine if it were available today.

The poll asked 931 likely Missouri voters whether they would receive a coronavirus vaccine if it were free and approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they “likely” or “positively” would, compared to 70% who would receive the flu vaccine.

That concerns Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.

“We’d like as many people as possible to get immunized for COVID to get assured of herd immunity status,” he said.

There is no federally approved immunization against the coronavirus, but experts say a vaccine likely will become available by the end of the year.

Experts have said that a widespread vaccine is the only way to effectively end the pandemic, and that the more people who receive the immunization, the more people will be safe from getting sick.

“It’s completely understandable that people are being cautious about accepting a vaccine,” Garza said. “And that’s because of …. the fact that the whole pandemic has been politicized."

Republicans were more likely to not opt for the vaccine, said poll director Steven Rogers, a political science professor at St. Louis University.

Most people’s responses to the vaccine question lined up with another poll question about whether they trusted the federal Food and Drug Administration, he said. Democrats placed more confidence and trust in government institutions.

“We found pretty much overwhelmingly if you definitely trust the FDA, you’re pretty much likely to get this COVID vaccine,” Rogers said.

The FDA oversees safety and efficacy of prescription drugs and vaccines.

Dozens of companies worldwide have been working on developing coronavirus vaccines. Many are in late-stage clinical trials. Health officials say it’s unlikely a vaccine will be widely available to the public until mid-2021, even if the FDA approves one in the next few months.

More people will begin to trust a new vaccine once doctors and other health experts can vouch for it, said Dr. Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

“Certainly the more people who get the vaccine the better for the benefit for the whole community,” she said. “But I think it may be premature to conclude from a survey done now that when the vaccine is actually released and available that those numbers will still be the same.”

In the United States, vaccines need to garner approval from not only the FDA, but from committees of bipartisan experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Babcock said.

“If those processes are allowed to unfold in the way they usually do, I expect the scientific and medical communities will be behind the vaccine ... and will be able to speak honestly and effectively about the effectiveness of it,” she said.

Health officials will need to focus on building trust and educating the public about the safety and effectiveness of a vaccine when it becomes available, Garza said.

“Half the battle is going to be communication,” he said. “What’s going to be paramount is a really high degree of transparency and assuring the public that yes, this vaccine has gone through all these proper milestones to meet the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.”

On Thursday, Gov. Mike Parson and Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams unveiled the state’s plan for distributing vaccines once they become available. The plan prioritizes health care and long-term care facility workers for the first vaccine doses.

The state will likely have vaccines available to the general public in 2021, Williams said.

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Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.