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CNBC poll shows very little will persuade unvaccinated Americans to get Covid shots

A man wears an ‘UNVACCINATED’ t-shirt ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally at York Family Farms on August 21, 2021 in Cullman, Alabama.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Americans who are unvaccinated against Covid-19 are largely driven by a mistrust of the government and fears over vaccine side effects, and there is very little that can be done to persuade them to get the shots, a new CNBC/Change Research poll reveals.

Change Research surveyed 1,775 respondents for CNBC from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2 about Americans’ views on Covid vaccines, President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and various other issues.

Among the 29% of U.S. voters who are unvaccinated, 83% say they do not plan to get the life-saving shots, the survey shows. A frustrated President Joe Biden on Thursday outlined a host of new vaccine and testing mandates for federal workers, contractors as well as health-care and private company employees.

“What more is there to wait for? What more do you need to see? We’ve made vaccinations free, safe and convenient. The vaccine has FDA approval, over 200 million Americans have gotten at least one shot,” Biden said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and the refusal has cost all of us. So please do the right thing.”

Of the unvaccinated respondents, 84% said their decision against immunization wouldn’t change if the vaccines had no side effects and 87% said they still wouldn’t get the shots if their employer mandated them; just 5% and 4% of respondents, respectively, said those things would make them “much more likely” to change their minds, the survey shows. Pressure from family members made little difference with just 2% saying that would make them much more likely to get the shots.

Growing vaccine hesitancy could make it difficult to reach the up to 90% vaccination rate that some health officials have suggested is necessary to achieve nationwide herd immunity to Covid.

“It’s time for people to understand that there’s no herd immunity in sight that is going to allow this virus to go away and not come back,” Dr. Bruce Farber, chief of infectious disease at Northwell Health in New York, told CNBC in a Sept. 1 interview. “And we are going to be living with this virus just the way we live with influenza for the foreseeable future.”

Some 34% of unvaccinated respondents said they were hesitant to get the shots because they didn’t trust the federal government while another 34% were worried about the vaccine’s side effects. Less than 10% of unvaccinated respondents said they would be more likely to get vaccinated if the delta variant were more problematic in their community, with just 7% saying they would get vaccinated if asked by President Trump.

“There does appear to be something specific to COVID-19 at work as well, because 56% of the unvaccinated report having received a flu shot in the past,” the poll said.

The divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated was especially apparent along political lines, with 60% of Republicans and 87% of Trump voters in last year’s presidential election responding that they were unvaccinated in the poll. Comparatively, 49% of Democrats and 68% of Biden voters in 2020 said they were fully vaccinated.

The survey found that 53% of unvaccinated respondents were less likely to get the shots after top U.S. health officials endorsed Covid booster shots on Aug. 18 for mRNA vaccines because that protection decreases over time. But 73% of vaccinated voters said they would eventually receive their third doses.

Despite their resistance to immunizing against Covid, unvaccinated respondents appeared more willing to embrace therapeutic treatments if recommended by a doctor following a positive Covid diagnosis. The poll found that 44% of unvaccinated voters responded “maybe” when asked whether they would accept either an intravenous antiviral or monoclonal antibodies, compared with 33% of unvaccinated respondents who said they would reject the antibodies and 34% who would refuse the antiviral.

With students returning to in-person learning and employers bringing their staff back into the office, the poll also captured voters’ thoughts on mask requirements in schools and vaccine mandates in the workplace. Among parents of children under 18, 51% support mask mandates for faculty, while 47% think schools should make students wear facial coverings.

The poll reported stronger support for employer vaccine mandates, with 55% of voters agreeing with inoculation requirements for staff at private businesses. And 67% of respondents said companies should be allowed to enforce mask requirements for customers.

“One of the things that was most likely to lead someone to get vaccinated was if their employer required it,” the poll found.

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