Why Are Some Ohioans Still Resisting Vaccination?

In recent press briefings, Governor Mike DeWine referred to “two Ohios”: one that is vaccinated and largely safe from the harms of COVID-19 and one that is unvaccinated and for whom coronavirus remains a serious threat. As the Delta variant surges through Ohio communities and hospitalizations rise, we are also seeing increases in the number and share of eligible Ohioans who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. But many remain hesitant or resistant. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau sheds light on this issue, and the reasons people are not seeking a vaccine.

The Census Household Pulse Survey began asking questions about COVID-19 vaccination status and attitudes in January. The latest data was collected between July 21 and August 2, 2021. By that time, over 75 percent of Ohio adults had gotten at least one dose or said they “definitely will”. Nine percent remained on the fence with most indicating they were unsure or they “probably will not get a vaccine”.

The number of Ohio adults saying they “definitely will not get a vaccine” appeared to be falling starting in May. The drop coincided with the Vax-a-Million lottery, a state-wide outreach campaign which included a weekly drawing where one vaccinated Ohioan won $1 million. However, by the beginning of July that number had returned to 10.1 percent – just below the 10.9 percent who said they would not get a vaccine when the question was first asked in January.

The most common reason that Ohio adults have not or were not planning to receive the vaccine is concern about possible side effects.

People could indicate several reasons why they had not received the vaccine on the Census Pulse survey. Overall, the most common reason that Ohio adults had not or were not planning to receive the vaccine was concern about possible side effects, with more than half of adults citing this worry. Between late June and early August, the share of Ohio adults who cited distrust of government as a reason for not being fully vaccinated nearly doubled, growing from 22 percent to 41 percent. This is above the U.S. rate of 33 percent.

Other common reasons, cited by at least one-third of Ohio adults who have not been fully vaccinated, included not trusting COVID-19 vaccines and planning to wait and see if it is safe. Now that vaccines are readily available, efforts have shifted to convincing eligible individuals to take their shot. Targeted messaging is needed to overcome varying reasons for hesitation among Ohioans.

Targeted messaging is needed to overcome varying reasons for hesitation among Ohioans.

By early August, there were about 111,000 Ohio adults who said they definitely or probably would get a vaccine, but had yet to do so. Close to half (48 percent) of unvaccinated Black Ohioans said they were interested or committed to getting a vaccine, making their share the highest. Those who are interested or committed don’t need convincing. Instead, they need barriers to access removed.

On the other hand, just 7 percent of the unvaccinated Ohioans who are white and almost none of those who are Hispanic or Latino planned to get a vaccine. Hispanic or Latino and non-Hispanic white adults in Ohio were about twice as likely as Black adults to list distrust of government as a reason they have not been vaccinated. Unvaccinated Black Ohioans are also much less likely to say they don’t believe COVID-19 is a big threat or that they don’t believe they need a vaccine.

Among people who said they had not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19, the share of people who said they “definitely will not get a vaccine” increases with age, growing to include almost two-thirds of unvaccinated Ohioans over age 65.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 were mostly likely to say they “probably will get the vaccine”, but they were also most likely to remain unvaccinated by early August. Younger people need to be encouraged to make a plan and get their shot. Nearly two-thirds of unvaccinated, hesitant, and resistant young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 said they planned to wait and see if the vaccine is safe, compared to just 11 percent of older adults over age 65. Younger people were also much more likely to be concerned about cost, despite the fact that there is no out-of-pocket cost for the vaccine, even for people without health insurance.

Overcoming uncertainty, hesitation, and resistance will take a concerned public health effort.

Overcoming uncertainty, hesitation, and resistance will take a concerted public health effort. Some people need to be convinced that they should be vaccinated, while others need to be assured that the vaccine is safe. The group of Ohioans who is willing to be vaccinated need to be connected with providers and appointments. Vaccination is our way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, with so many Ohio adults distrustful of government’s efforts to encourage vaccination, other influential voices need to join the call.