More than a year and a half into the coronavirus outbreak, large shares of Americans continue to see the coronavirus as a major threat to public health and the U.S. economy, according to a new Pew Research Center report. Despite widespread vaccination efforts, 54% of U.S. adults say the worst of the outbreak is still to come.
The toll of restrictions on public activities in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus is deeply felt across groups: Overwhelming majorities say restrictions have done a lot or some to hurt businesses and economic activity and to keep people from living their lives the way they want. Smaller majorities say these restrictions have helped at least some to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus and to slow the spread of the virus. Still, when asked to give an overall judgment, Americans on balance view the public health benefits of these restrictions as having been worth the costs (62% to 37%).
The new report, based on a survey of 10,348 U.S. adults conducted Aug. 23-29, 2021, using the Center’s American Trends Panel, finds 73% of those ages 18 and older say they’ve received at least one dose of a vaccine for COVID-19, with the vast majority of this group saying they have received all the shots they need to be fully vaccinated. About a quarter of adults (26%) say they have not received a vaccine.
Vaccination rates vary significantly across demographic groups, with smaller majorities of younger adults, those with lower family incomes and those living in rural areas saying they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. Some of the lowest vaccination rates are seen among those with no health insurance and White evangelical Protestants (57% each) as well as among Republicans and Republican leaners (60%). Notably, Black adults are now about as likely as White adults to say they’ve received a vaccine (70% and 72%, respectively). Earlier in the outbreak, Black adults were less likely than White adults to say they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccinated adults and those who have not received a vaccine differ widely in their views of vaccines – as well as other elements of the broader coronavirus outbreak. For instance, 77% of vaccinated adults say the statement “people who choose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine are hurting the country” describes them at least somewhat well. By contrast, 88% of those who have not received a vaccine say that “there’s too much pressure on Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine” describes their own views very or somewhat well. But vaccinated adults are not without anxieties and concerns surrounding vaccines: 54% of this group says the statement “we don’t really know yet if there are serious health risks from COVID-19 vaccines” describes them very or somewhat well, and 50% say the same about the statement “it’s hard to make sense of all the information about COVID-19 vaccines.”
The new survey, conducted prior to Joe Biden’s announcement that employers with more than 100 workers will be required to have their workers vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus, finds that 39% of the public says most businesses in the U.S. should require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.Another 35% say businesses should encourage employees to get a vaccine, but not require it. A quarter of the public says most businesses should neither require nor encourage employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
A 61% majority of Americans favor requiring adults to show proof of vaccination before being allowed to travel by airplane. More than half also say proof of vaccination should be required to attend public colleges and universities (57%) and to go to sporting events and concerts (56%). However, the public is less convinced that vaccine requirements are needed in other settings. Equal shares of Americans favor and oppose requiring proof of vaccination to eat inside of a restaurant (50% vs. 50%), and 54% say they oppose a vaccination requirement to shop inside stores and businesses.
Other key findings include:
|•||A majority of Americans (61%) say changes to public health recommendations since the start of the outbreak have made sense because scientific knowledge is always being updated. About half (51%) say these changes have reassured them that public health officials are staying on top of new information. However, changes to public health guidance have also sparked confusion and skepticism among significant shares of the public: 55% say changes made them wonder if public health officials were holding back important information, 53% say it made them feel confused and 51% say it made them less confident in officials’ recommendations.|
|•||Mask wearing has become less frequent since earlier this year. Overall, 53% of U.S. adults say they’ve been wearing a mask or face covering all or most of the time when in stores and businesses over the last month, down 35 percentage points from 88% who said this in February (when mask requirements around the country were more widespread).|
|•||72% say they personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19. As has been the case throughout the outbreak, larger shares of Black (82%) and Hispanic (78%) adults than White (70%) and English-speaking Asian adults (64%) say they personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the coronavirus.|
|•||A relatively small share of Americans (26%) are aware that few adults in developing countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines. A majority (76%) places importance on the U.S. providing large numbers of COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, though just 26% call this a top priority for the U.S.|
|•||Biden’s job ratings for handling the outbreak have declined. Larger shares now say Biden is doing an only fair or poor job (52%) responding to the coronavirus outbreak than say he is doing an excellent or good job (47%). In February, 54% said he was doing an excellent or good job. By contrast, Americans continue to give very high marks to hospitals and medical centers in their area: 85% say they are doing an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak.|
|•||Large partisan divides persist in views of the public health threat posed by COVID-19. Eight-in-ten Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say the outbreak is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, while just 38% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same. The partisan gap on this question is as wide as it has been at any point during the pandemic. Vaccination status is also closely tied to perceptions of the public health threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak: 70% of vaccinated adults view it as a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, compared with just 37% of adults who have not received a vaccine.|
|•||Republicans grow more skeptical of scientists’ judgment. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) say scientists’ judgments are just as likely to be biased as other people’s, up from 55% who said this in January 2019. By contrast, a growing share of Democrats take the opposite view and say scientists make judgments solely on the facts (73% of Democrats say this today, up from 62% in 2019).|
These are among the findings from the new report, which is based on a survey of 10,348 U.S. adults conducted online Aug. 23-29, 2021. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.