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Uncovering the powerful emotions concealed behind COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

A deeper story of 90 million unvaccinated people reveals bedside manner and convenience can be game-changers for women, especially young mothers.

With the rise of vaccinations, fueled by the prevalence of the highly contagious Delta variant now responsible for most COVID-19 infections in the United States, the new focus for public health is on reaching herd immunity and continuing to slow the spread of the virus.

A White House COVID-19 response team reported in early August that more than 864,000 Americans had been vaccinated within the previous 24 hours—the highest numbers in a single day since July 3—and that more than 585,000 of those vaccines were first-time doses, the highest since July 1. The Centers for Disease Control’s data shows that 70% of U.S. adults have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, but health experts say the U.S. needs to have at least 80% of the population vaccinated to achieve some form of herd immunity.

But hesitancy lingers, with 90 million Americans eligible for the vaccine but not having received it.

Many health experts believe that race contributes to vaccine hesitancy, while media and social media indicate that political affiliation may also influence the sentiment.

Here are the research takeaways from NRC Health’s Market Insights survey on vaccine hesitancy, conducted in June 2021—drawing on the largest consumer database of its kind in the United States to analyze sentiment from more than 300 national markets.

New Data Sheds Light on Race

Based on this data, the research shows that race does, indeed, play some part, with only 38.4% of Black Americans and 32.4% of Hispanic Americans stating that they have gotten the vaccine.

To gain a deeper insight into what is driving vaccine hesitancy, NRC Health examined several factors, including gender and race combinations. This survey revealed that females are less likely to get the vaccine than males, a difference that bore out across all races and ethnicities. The survey also found that 14.2% of females stated, “I will never get the vaccine” in June 2021, compared to 8.7% males.

Females Less Likely to Vaccinate

What makes females less likely to get the vaccine? A critical factor in NRC Health’s national healthcare consumer survey was children in the home. Women with children in their homes were more likely to say that they would never get the vaccine than women without children. Additionally, women with children in the home were more likely to say that they would get the vaccine as soon as they could, or to say that they would eventually get the vaccine but would wait, resulting in a more than 20% difference between women with children in the home and women without children in the home saying that they had gotten the vaccine.

Age must be accounted for as well, as older females have higher vaccination rates than younger females, due to the fact that vaccination efforts have focused on protecting those most vulnerable in general, and the aged in particular.

However, NRC Health’s national healthcare consumer survey found the same sentiment even when focusing on women with children and women without children between the ages of 18 and 34: 24.8% of females report having gotten the vaccine, whereas 41.2% of females without children report having gotten it; and 18.2% of females with children report that they will never get the vaccine, compared to 16.8% of females without children.

The causes for this hesitancy mostly surround worries about the vaccine’s side effects (38.3% in June 2021) and thoughts that the vaccine has been rushed (36.9%).

Looking at experience data collected from vaccination clinics, experiences by gender are generally equal.

Factors that are more important for females of all ages include vaccination clinic staff explaining side effects, knowing what to do if there were questions, and answering questions and addressing concerns.

Examples of Challenges and Barriers

The NRC Health survey collected comments that reveal these same sentiments, especially for young women who are pregnant or of reproductive age. Comments also explained additional challenges and barriers to getting the vaccine, such as lack of childcare and long waits resulting in pregnant women standing in line for extended periods. Here are some examples:

  • “Great experience. Felt safe, clean, and everyone was very nice and efficient. As a woman of reproductive age, I wish I had been asked about pregnancy or plans to become pregnant. I had questions that I forgot to ask, and I would have asked them if the nurse had asked if I was pregnant or planning to become pregnant.”
  • “I am a pregnant woman in my last trimester. There is no separate line, so making me stand for more than an hour was certainly not a good experience, but otherwise, the system is good. I am scared to come again for my second shot as it will be two weeks before my delivery.”
  • “I was very impressed with how the clinic was set up and the efficiency of it all. I felt very well taken care of, and my initial nervousness about getting the vaccine (I’m pregnant) was replaced with a sense of relief. Thanks for doing such a great job!”
  • “It was nice that I did not have to wait much to get my vaccine. I was only given paperwork regarding the possible side effects. It would have been nice if one of the nurses explained this to me and provided more information on what to do if these side effects come up, especially if I was pregnant.”
  • “It’s hard for a single mom not to be able to bring her child back with her. I had to call my sister to watch my son, and it was really inconvenient. That being said, the staff were very kind and friendly.”
  • “My nurse was amazing. Being pregnant, I cried the second I sat in the chair. She was so comforting and patient and just lovely! She made sure I felt safe and confident and sure getting the shot.”

“I’m six months pregnant, so I was a little nervous about getting the vaccine, but he put me at ease about the whole thing by being so kind, personable, and friendly.”

Can Bedside Manner Help with Vaccinations?

NRC Health’s national healthcare consumer survey also revealed that consumers trust their local hospitals and health systems more concerning information about the COVID-19 vaccine than any other entity.

Hospitals and health systems can educate parents and mothers, specifically speaking to their concerns, and help parents weigh the benefits or consequences of getting the vaccine while pregnant versus potentially getting the COVID-19 virus. Notably, all forms of government sources have the lowest trust among consumers that they will handle the COVID-19 pandemic properly.

The Bottom Line

In addition to explaining the benefits or consequences of vaccines, local hospitals and health systems can make accommodations for parents and expecting mothers to provide childcare, allow children to attend vaccination appointments with their parents, or provide seating or special appointments for pregnant mothers.

As consumers do their research, take the time to ask questions, and learn what they can about the COVID-19 vaccine from reliable sources, they will make the most informed decision about getting vaccinated.