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In Colorado And Beyond, People Are Skeptical Of A Future COVID-19 Vaccine. Right Now, They Should Be

The poll came from the Colorado Health Foundation but national polls over the past few months paint a similar picture.

Back in May, a Washington Post-ABC News poll and another from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found, respectively, that 43% and 49% of respondents would definitely get a vaccine if one was available, and 15% and 20% definitely wouldn’t.

A Gallup poll conducted in July, however, found results more favorable to immunization, with 65% of participants saying they’d agree to be vaccinated if a free, FDA-approved vaccine were available. (It's important to note, however, that the Gallup poll required a "yes" or "no" answer, whereas other polls allowed a wider range of responses, like "not sure" or "probably").

With all of these polls, “it’s important to provide context that people don’t really know what they’re being asked yet,” said Dr. Daniel Kaul, an infectious disease physician and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan who’s involved in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

A vaccine doesn’t exist yet, so this is all hypothetical -- including the potential side effects of whatever candidate does come through. Kaul said these polls can be misleading, because at this stage, people should be skeptical.

“Some of the technologies being tested are new technologies,” said Kaul. “They’re extremely promising and so far the numbers look good, but until the large phase 3 clinical trials are completed -- and these trials are currently ongoing -- no one knows if they’re safe, and no one knows if they're effective.”

Indeed, the large trial he’s involved in for a potential vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University is currently on hold in the U.S. after a participant developed symptoms of spinal cord inflammation. As NPR reported, the trial has since resumed in the U.K.

A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation out this month found more than 60% of Americans “are worried the political pressure from the Trump administration will lead the FDA to rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure that it is safe and effective.”

When it comes to other infectious diseases, like measles and whooping cough, Mountain West states have typically been considered among those more vulnerable to outbreaks due to low vaccine uptake, at least among young children.

As the Colorado Sun reported, paraphrasing University of Colorado Denver sociologist Jennifer Reich: “Colorado has long struggled with near-bottom vaccination rates for kids, and the combination of a strong anti-vaccination movement and a deeply entrenched libertarian ethos makes it logical that the state will also likely struggle to persuade people to get a coronavirus vaccine.”

However, researchers at Yale wrote in July that Mountain West states fall into regions that are more accepting of a COVID-19 vaccine than other parts of the country. The region that includes Colorado, Utah and Wyoming was found to be more accepting than any other in the country. The researchers emphasized, however, that people might not follow through with their stated intent in getting a future vaccine.

A poll this month from the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that among Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike, around 7% of people think a COVID-19 vaccine already exists. It does not.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
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