Thursday, September 16, 2021

Poll shows fewer Kentuckians hesitant about vaccines, but 'hard core' 20% are dead-set against; mask views, habits deeply split

The question above was asked of those poll respondents who had said they had not been vaccinated. 
By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

When vaccines for the coronavirus were rolling out in late winter, 29 percent of Kentucky adults said they would probably not or definitely not get vaccinated; by last month, the figure had dropped to 20%, according to polls taken for the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Almost three-fourths of Kentucky adults have been vaccinated for the virus. Among the unvaccinated in August, one in five said they were still open to vaccination, but almost half said they would definitely not get a shot, and almost a third said nothing would persuade them otherwise.

"The greatest concern is that we have essentially a hard-core group, 20 percent or so here in Kentucky, that just simply is not going to get the vaccine," foundation President Ben Chandler said. "The underlying reason is that they are listening to people who are skeptical or anti-vaccine."

Chandler said the state has made some progress in reducing vaccine hesitancy and raising the vaccination rate, thanks in part to pro-vaccination efforts, but he said the main reason is that people are scared of the Delta variant of the virus, which is much more contagious than earlier variants.

Vaccination records show that daily vaccinations in Kentucky generally began increasing in early July, when the surge driven by the Delta variant became apparent. They have slacked off recently and are now on a rough plateau, much like the daily number of new cases.

"I think personally the Delta variant has more to do with changing people's minds than anything else because . . . people are locked into their own news sources," Chandler said. "Many of them are hearing skepticism about vaccines . . . More than anything, I think it's how we disseminate information in this country that's causing the difficulty."

Chandler said pro-vaccination campaigners "are just pulling their hair out on this subject, trying to figure out what on Earth we're gonna do to try to get these people vaccinated. . . . They seem to be immovable, despite a whole lot of facts that a  lot of people are aware of."

He said the solution lies at the local level. "You've got to find the folks who influence these people, and you've got to get them to influence them along different lines. You know, you've got influencers who feel very strongly about this and are anti-vaccine, and until we can somehow get those minds changed I think it's going to be very, very difficult. In certain respects, we're kind of stuck in concrete."

He said the hard core is "essentially prepared to act as hosts for this virus, hosts that can allow the virus to mutate, and of course, that puts everybody in jeopardy. . . . That ought to be of tremendous concern to all of us."

The latest poll was conducted Aug. 4 through Sept. 4. It asked many other questions about vaccination, and about masks, the main short-term measure experts recommend to fight the virus.

Reported mask-wearing practice split evenly, three ways. One-third said they always wear a mask in an crowded outdoor space, while another third wear a mask sometimes or occasionally, and he other third never do.

Almost half said they always wear a mask indoors in a crowded public space. That included more than a third of those who said they hadn't been vaccinated. However, almost a fourth of the unvaccinated say they never wear a mask indoors in a crowded public space.

Asked about requiring proof of vaccination, Kentucky adults' opinions depended in large part on the circumstances. Two out of three said it would be a bad idea to require proof of vaccination to enter a retail store, but just over half said it’s a good idea for sporting events and concerts to require proof, and two-thirds said that should be the case for airliners and other p public transportation.

The poll was taken during a period when the state required everyone in public schools to mask up, and the state Supreme Court upheld laws limiting the governor's emergency powers. It was completed just before the legislature abolished the statewide mask mandate, leaving the decision up to local school officials. 

It found that two-thirds of Kentuckians think it’s a good idea for schools to require children who are not vaccinated against the virus to wear masks. Those who said they have children living in their homes were about 10 percentage points less likely to say that. That split was even greater when it came to requiring vaccination of children 12 and older, who are eligible to be vaccinated. Overall, Kentuckians were about evenly divided on the issue, but two-thirds of those who said they have children at home said requiring vaccination for school would be a bad idea.

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