Results from a new USC Dornsife study show that U.S. adults with higher education are significantly more likely to get a COVID- 19 vaccination and to believe in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, it was announced Thursday.
The Understanding Coronavirus in America Study reveals that when it comes to attitudes and beliefs about the COVID-19 vaccine — from willingness to get the vaccine, to knowing someone who has been vaccinated, to perceived risks of vaccine side effects — there is a substantial gap between more- and less-educated U.S. residents.
Researchers with the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research found that more than three out of four — 76% — U.S. adults with at least a bachelor’s degree have already been vaccinated or plan to be, compared to just over half — 53% — of those without a college degree. That’s a change from earlier in the pandemic, when educational level played less of a role in people’s willingness to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Earlier in the pandemic, educational level played less of a role than race and ethnicity in people’s willingness to get vaccinated, but educational level is now in most cases a greater factor, the study found.
“Results of our surveys earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic — before vaccines were approved — indicated that race and ethnicity would play a greater role than education level in people’s willingness to get the vaccine,” said Jill Darling, survey director for CESR’s Understanding America Study. “But one year into this pandemic, with vaccines now being rolled out across the U.S., education level has become a greater factor than race.”
From knowing someone who has been vaccinated to perceptions of vaccine efficacy to the perceived risk of serious vaccine side effects, substantial educational gaps exist.
“What we find driving the educational differences, along with racial and ethnic differences, in vaccine hesitancy is lack of trust in the vaccine development and approval process,” said Kyla Thomas, sociologist with USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, which conducts the study. “Our findings indicate that, in addition to tailoring vaccine awareness campaigns to high-risk groups, policymakers should emphasize the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines particularly to those without college degrees. Trust is the big story here: Policymakers need to build trust among less-educated Americans.”
For now, a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine is the greatest factor hampering vaccine uptake by U.S. adults, with almost six in 10 saying they plan to get vaccinated. As vaccine supply increases, and once access inequities are addressed, the issue of overcoming vaccine hesitancy likely will move to the forefront of the policy agenda both nationally and in the states, according to the study.
Designing effective strategies to encourage people to get vaccinated will be key to increasing uptake and generating community protection against the coronavirus via widespread vaccination.
“Moving forward, we have to work closely with information and communication channels people trust, like celebrities and leaders from the community and faith-based organizations,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, professor of preventive medicine, Keck School of Medicine of USC and research scientist, USC COVID-19 Pandemic Research Center.