Deep political divides remain a major hurdle for reaching herd immunity via the COVID-19 vaccine in Michigan, but there’s room for optimism, according to a January survey conducted by Glengariff Group Inc. for Business Leaders of Michigan.
Of the 600 registered voters contacted by phone between Jan. 25-29, about 54.9 percent are eager to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible or have already had the vaccine, and another 19.4 percent are open to receiving the vaccine when it becomes available to them.
Jeff Donofrio, CEO of the statewide business advocacy group, said businesses, health care leaders and government officials can now see a pathway to herd immunity — which is currently unknown but expected to require that at least 70 percent of the population receive a vaccine or have already been infected with COVID-19 — by extrapolating out the survey data.
“The faster we get the vaccination into arms in the state of Michigan, the faster our economy recovers and the faster we can become a top-10 state again,” Donofrio told Crain’s. “We’ve made progress and now we can start to build trust in the vaccine for those on the fence and start to understand the motivations of those that are still questioning it.”
For the 19.4 percent sitting on the fence about receiving the vaccine, a plurality said they wanted to see how others reacted to the vaccine or that it was made too fast or too new for their comfort.
Richard Czuba, founder of the market research group Glengariff, said that proves time could be the motivating factor.
“They can be convinced, they just need more time,” Czuba daid. “They are beyond the low-hanging fruit but can be convinced. They are the important link in getting to (herd immunity).”
Czuba said the key to changing their minds is in the motivations for getting the vaccine. Of those who said they plan to wait to get the vaccine, 12.1 percent said attending a sporting event could push them toward getting dosed and another 11.2 percent said being able to fly and travel is a factor.
“Watching those that have been vaccinated do these things safely in the future could move them toward getting themselves vaccinated,” Czuba said.
Race also plays a at least a small factor with 26 percent of Black respondents saying they plan to wait on getting the vaccine, even if it’s available to them. But nearly 20 percent of those Black respondents that said they plan to wait could be motivated to get the vaccine to go to church.
“Getting the next tier (those not willing to receive the vaccine right away) is going to have to be very community specific, very demographic specific to get over the hump of 70 percent (of adults vaccinated),” Czuba said.
But survey results also reveal a deep political divide and mistrust of the government.
Of the respondents, 22.8 percent said they would not receive the vaccine ever. The results paint a very specific picture of those individuals. Of those not wanting the vaccine, 64.3 percent get their news from conservative TV news outlet Newsmax; 51 percent are supporters of former President Donald Trump; 34.3 percent are avid Fox News viewers; 32 percent are under the age of 40; and 32 percent live in rural Michigan.
“It’s very clearly an issue we’re going to face on the Republican side of the aisle, specifically the Trump niche,” Czuba saod. “They are going to be the hardest to reach.”
Nearly 20 percent of those respondents said they do not trust the vaccine. Another 15.4 percent are against vaccinations all together. More than 10 percent said they don’t need the vaccine because they are healthy.
Czuba said the divide is born out of a deep distrust of the government, which may show pathways to moving the unmovable from their perch on vaccines.
Of respondents against against taking the vaccine, 61 percent said they trust their doctor, but only 12 percent trust health officials. Comparatively, of those who said they will get the vaccine, 78.4 percent trust health officials and 96.6 percent trust their doctor.
Czuba said as more doses become available and more people have received the vaccine, distribution through doctors and pharmacies may help sway those choosing to wait or those who say they won’t receive the vaccine to do the opposite.
Of the nearly 20 percent of respondents who said they are waiting for more information, only 45 percent said they’d take it at a clinic or mass vaccination site. But 63.8 percent said they would get the vaccine at a local pharmacy.
“We’re in such a politicized environment; to see something like a pandemic to become politicized speaks to the situation we’re in,” Czuba said. “But these results show important building blocks that can possibly cross the divide. We have to focus on different demographic groups differently with targeted messages and hopefully this data can help business and health officials do that.”