About 50 Percent of Americans Say They Don’t Need New COVID-19 Booster: Kaiser Poll

Amy Gamm
By Amy Gamm
December 17, 2022Vaccines
About 50 Percent of Americans Say They Don’t Need New COVID-19 Booster: Kaiser Poll
A pharmacist prepares to administer COVID-19 vaccine booster shots during an event hosted by the Chicago Department of Public Health at the Southwest Senior Center in Chicago, Ill., on Sept. 9, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

About half of the U.S. adult population say they don’t need the latest COVID-19 booster while just under a quarter have already taken the jab, according to a recent poll. The findings come despite a Biden administration push to vaccinate during the holiday season.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) COVID-19 Monitor poll, only 22 percent of adults have gotten the new bivalent booster since it first became available in September. Another 16 percent claim that they plan to get it “as soon as possible.”

These numbers vary slightly from those that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put out on Dec. 8, which showed that only 16.3 percent of eligible adults have received the updated booster.

The CDC classifies as “fully vaccinated” those individuals who completed the COVID-19 monovalent series of the original SARS-CoV-2 strain; the classification does not require a booster.

“Fully vaccinated, however, is not the same as having the best protection,” the agency cautions. “People are best protected when they stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations, which includes getting a booster when eligible.”

The updated bivalent booster, created by both Pfizer and Moderna, specifically targets the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, but according to an AABC News report, it has also been shown “to protect well against newer circulating offshoots such as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, making up nearly 70 percent of new cases.”

Among people who are fully vaccinated, KFF found that 44 percent felt that they don’t need the updated booster. Of those, 37 percent don’t think the booster’s reputed benefit is worth it, while 36 percent said that they were “too busy” to get one. Twenty-three percent cited bad side effects with previous COVID-19 injections for their hesitancy.

Nine percent said that they definitely won’t be getting a booster at all.

Another reason for people’s lackluster enthusiasm to run out and get boosted is that only 36 percent of poll participants worried that they would get seriously sick from contracting the virus, KFF reported. The 65 and older population, most vulnerable to negative outcomes from COVID-19 infection, showed slightly more apprehension with 43 percent expressing anxiety about potentially getting sick.

The Republican–Democrat Divide

Data coming from the KFF poll showed a significant difference in the way Republicans or Republican-leaning participants viewed a need for the booster as compared to their Democrat counterparts.

Democrats seemed eager to get the booster while Republicans appeared skeptical. In fact, KFF found that Democrats were three times more likely to have already rolled up their sleeves for the shot than Republicans.

Data shows that nearly four out of 10 (or 38 percent) of poll participants who identified as Democrat had already received the booster, with an additional 28 percent having an intention to do so at the soonest opportunity. This contrasts significantly with the 12 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Republican-leaning Independents who had taken the time to get the shot.

The top reason that Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents gave for deciding against the booster was that they didn’t need it (64 percent) or felt that it wasn’t worth the benefit (61 percent). Among Democrats (or Democratic-leaning Independents) the most common reason cited for not yet doing so was having been too busy (51 percent).

Of those participants who weren’t vaccinated at all or who were only partially vaccinated and, thus, ineligible to get the booster, 9 percent identified as Democrat while 69 percent were either Republican or Republican-leaning Independents.

Attitudes Change Toward Vaccination in General for Children

A notable trend that the KFF poll revealed was an increased opposition toward schools requiring vaccines in general for school-aged children, not just the COVID-19 shots.

Nearly three out of 10 adults, the poll found, say that parents should be able to decide whether or not to vaccinate their children for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR), a vaccination that has been widely available since 1971 and, for 49 states and Washington, D.C., a public-school requirement for entry into kindergarten. Iowa is the only exception; the state only mandates vaccination against measles and rubella, but not mumps.

This number is up 12 percent from 2019 when Pew Research conducted a poll in October, only months before the pandemic. In 2019, Pew determined that 16 percent of Americans were opposed to mandatory vaccination for children; in 2022, KFF saw that number rise to 28 percent. And even though confidence in the efficacy of the MMR vaccine remains high at 80 percent, for parents with school-aged kids under 18, the opposition to compulsory vaccination increased from 23 percent to 35 percent, respectively.

Here again, the Republican-Democrat divide among Americans as a whole was stark. Only 11 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning participants believed parents should decide their children’s vaccination fate regarding school requirements as compared to 44 percent of those identifying as Republican or Republican-leaning. Since 2019, Democrats’ view has remained stable, but for Republicans, negative opinions about mandatory vaccination have more than doubled from 20 percent in 2019 to 44 percent in 2022.

KFF found that currently, about one in four parents of teenagers aged 12 to 17 say their child has already gotten the updated COVID-19 booster (16 percent) or definitely will get it soon (8 percent). The percentage of boosted children aged 5 to 11 is slightly less, at 11 percent.

According to the CDC, apart from particular state or local laws, “there is no federal or legal requirement for a parent, guardian, or caregiver to consent for COVID-19 or any other vaccination,” so, depending on the location, little can stop minors with differing opinions to their parents from pursuing vaccinations themselves.

In June 2020, the Food and Drug Administration announced its emergency use of the original strain COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 6 months. On Dec. 8 this year, it amended its authorization to include the new bivalent booster.

Booster Response Remains Tepid Despite Biden Administration Efforts

KFF’s data demonstrates the low turnout for booster shots despite the Biden administration’s push to get people up to date on their COVID-19 vaccination status ahead of the holiday season and winter months.

In late November, the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) launched a six-week “We Can Do This” campaign. HSS described this campaign as “a national initiative to increase public confidence in and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines while reinforcing basic prevention measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.”

The site gives tips to print, customize, and share “We Can Do This” campaign content such as actual HHS-formulated wording for text messages, emails, and social media posts to easily share information about the booster and where to get it.

But despite these efforts, response remains mediocre.

Messaging is poor; many people don’t even know that the updated boosters are available, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

“If they are, many don’t seem to understand the importance of getting boosted at all—with bivalent or original recipe—and there is a decided lack of urgency in communications about it,” Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University, told WSJ.

According to WSJ, public health leaders blame general weariness about the pandemic, the decrease in the current number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, and skepticism about the booster’s efficacy for the low numbers showing up for shots.

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.