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Here are the biggest reasons Michiganders say they don't want the COVID vaccine

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White Michiganders are more likely to think the risk of COVID is overblown, and that they don’t think they’re at risk of getting sick.

But Black and Latinx residents, who are more likely to know someone who’s died of the virus, say they’re more worried about the vaccine itself - that it’s too new, for instance, or that they don’t trust vaccines in general, or that they “worry that I could get COVID-19 from the vaccine."

That’s according to survey resultsreleased by the Center for Health and Research Transformation at the University of Michigan on Monday.

About 1,000 Michigan adults were polled online between March 19 and April 1, just a few days before Michigan opened vaccinations to the general population 16+. The questions focused on whether they intended to get vaccinated/already had been vaccinated, and if not, sought to measure how strong the resistance was and the broad reasons behind it.

Across the board, 86% of Michiganders who say they’re not intending to get vaccinated, say the biggest reason is “side effects.”

That surprised Karin Teske, a senior analyst at CHRT.

“It was so widely reported ... that stood out to me as a really key finding, and important for messaging going forward,” she said.

But the survey doesn’t drill down into which side effects people are worried about, however. And there’s a big difference between not wanting to get flu-like symptoms for a few days vs. thinking the vaccine will change your DNA or hurt your fertility, two of the common, and scientifically disproven, myths about the COVID shot.

Still, researchers say there’s reason here to believe that people could change their minds over time, however: 83% of those who didn’t intend to get vaccinated, said they believe the vaccine “is too new and I want to wait to see how it works for other people.”

“Which is pretty encouraging: the fact that we would hope that, over time, that concern might be alleviated as people see that the vaccine is safe and effective,” Teske said.

At the time of the survey, 43% of respondents said they’d gotten at least one dose or had an appointment to get one (currently, 58% of residents 16+ have had at least their initial shot, according to state data.)

But people were less likely to say they’d gotten a shot if they:

  • Are low-income: “Just 24 percent of those making less than $30,000 per year had received at least one dose of vaccine compared to 42 percent of those who reported incomes of $100,000 or more,” the report said. 
  • Are Latinx/Hispanic: Only 20% of those respondents said they’d gotten a shot. Statewide, the disparities are far starker: only 3% of Michiganders who’ve at least had an initial shot are Hispanic, even though they represent 5% of the state’s population.  
  • Don’t have health insurance: “Uninsured people were three times less likely to have received at least one dose of vaccine (11%) than those who were insured (34%).”

But why, when the COVID shot is free?
“That really shouldn't be a barrier,” said Teske. It could be partly because some uninsured people “may be perceiving their risk of getting sick as lower overall,” she said.

“But there are also barriers in terms of people...maybe [being] less likely to be interacting with a health professional on a regular basis…. And so folks that that don’t have insurance, don’t have a medical home, may not be interacting with the health system as often and receiving those trusted messages about the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccine.”

And while many of the reasons cited for hesitancy differed by race, there were also differences between just how hesitant respondents felt about the COVID vaccine.

For instance, while only 11% of Black respondents said they fully “did not intend to get vaccinated” (compared to 28% of white and 27% of Latinx/Hispanic residents,) they were more likely to be on the fence: 29% of Black respondents said they “were unsure whether they’d get vaccinated,” vs. 13% of white and 20% of Latinx/Hispanic respondents.

Health officials and providers should take that into account when trying to reach vaccine hesitant people, said Marissa Rurka, another senior analyst at CHRT.

“Understanding what some of the most common concerns are [for different communities] is a helpful guide moving forward, to try and tailor messages to two different groups. For example, we saw that respondents who were Black and Latino/Hispanic, were more concerned about the vaccine” itself, as opposed to white respondents, who were more likely to think they weren’t at risk.

Until recently, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s administration’s plan to incentivize vaccination was to tie the lifting of restrictions to the state’s immunization rate. But that plan is out the window, with the CDC’s recent guidance that fully vaccinated people don’t need a mask indoors, and all broad COVID restrictions lifting July 1st in Michigan.

Now we need to look at “other incentive type programs, like we’ve seen across other states,” and make it extremely easy to get the vaccine, Teske said. “And just being able to reach folks that maybe have a harder time getting the vaccine - getting to their door even. And having a more localized kind of out for those harder-to-reach folks that are less likely to have gotten it already."

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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