Doctors' Offices Are Preferred COVID Vaccine Sites for Unvaccinated

Ken Terry

June 17, 2021

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More than half of unvaccinated Americans would prefer to get a COVID-19 vaccination at their doctors' office, according to the results of a new national survey.

The survey results also underscore the ongoing problem of vaccine hesitancy, showing that about a third of Americans don't plan to get a shot and 70% of the unvaccinated are hesitant to get one.

The preference to be vaccinated in a medical office was three to five times higher among unvaccinated Americans than were other strategies such as vaccinations at retail pharmacies or drug stores, community health centers, public health clinics, drive-up clinics, and large public vaccination sites.

In addition, the survey found that one of three people who expressed hesitancy about vaccination preferred to hear about the vaccine from their doctor. This recommendation would be more important to them than hearing from vaccinated friends and family members, hospitals, religious leaders, or elected officials.

The nationwide poll of more than 12,000 people was conducted jointly by the African American Research Collaborative and the Commonwealth Fund. According to these organizations, the survey has the largest sample of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans of any study of COVID-19 vaccine uptake to date.

Racial disparities were evident in the breakdown of the unvaccinated. In total, 42% of the respondents had not been vaccinated; in contrast, 46% of Blacks, 47% of Latinos, and 44% of Native Americans were unvaccinated. Just 40% of whites and 31% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) were in that category.

Nearly one third of unvaccinated Black Americans and one fifth of unvaccinated Native Americans who were vaccine-hesitant said the healthcare discrimination their communities have faced makes it hard to trust that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

Yet it was white Americans, more than any of the other racial groups, who bought into the rampant misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Of the unvaccinated white respondents, 43% said they'd heard the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is dangerous and can create blood clots; 31% said that COVID-19 vaccines can give you COVID-19 and make you sick; and 26% said that new variants make the vaccines ineffective.

More Education Needed

Nearly 40% of all respondents said they didn't know how to get the vaccine. Among Black people, 43% didn't know where to go. Ray Block, PhD, an associate professor at Penn State, said at a June 16 news conference that this showed the need for more public education.

Regarding the finding that people preferred to get shots in doctors' offices, he said this was a big deal, because policymakers can focus on getting vaccines into those practices.

"We think that enough people have been vaccinated that it could be possible for doctors' offices to take on some of the burden of doing this work," he said. "Doctors' offices are a place where the remaining unvaccinated people could go."

Even Republicans, who have been more vaccine hesitant than Democrats, would be more likely to choose a doctor's office than any other vaccine site, Block noted. In fact, 60% of Republicans expressed this preference, compared to 53% of Democrats and 47% of independents.

Other markers of respondents' interest in getting a shot in their doctor's office included being a rural resident, a woman, and over age 65 years, the survey shows.

The most potent message for persuading people to get vaccinated, according to the poll, was that "getting a COVID-19 vaccine can protect the lives of my family, friends, and those I love."

This message resonated among 44% of the unvaccinated.

Mandates Eschewed

Vaccine mandates were favored by just 50% of college students. When employed people were asked what their reaction would be if their employer asked them to get vaccinated, only 31% said yes. Interestingly, there was a diversity of responses from different racial groups, with 54% of AAPI respondents answering in the affirmative.

Forty-five percent of respondents said they'd be willing to take an annual COVID-19 booster shot. Slightly less white people and just 38% of Black people said they would. But there was a large amount of uncertainty in the responses.

If a combination COVID-flu vaccine were available as a single booster shot, the percentage willing to get it rose to 50% of respondents. Among the vaccinated, 70% of people were willing to get the booster.

Only 41% of parents were willing to let their children be vaccinated. Thirty-seven percent of both Black and white parents were willing to do this.

In contrast, 64% of all respondents endorsed the idea of requiring all teachers and school staff to get vaccinated before school starts in September. White parents had the lowest approval rate at 51%.

Different Takes

Experts representing different racial groups gave different takes on the survey at the press conference.

Laurie Zephyrin, MD, vice president for advancing health equity at the Commonwealth Fund, noted that COVID has revealed long-standing healthcare inequities. "This survey underscores the need to address discrimination in the healthcare system and bring equity into the center of the recovery process," she said.

Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials' Educational Fund, said the Latino Americans least likely to be vaccinated are young people, noncitizens, and rural residents.

One of the survey's major findings, he said, is that Spanish-speaking Latinos have better vaccination rates than their English-speaking counterparts — a difference he attributed to the effectiveness of Spanish-language media in boosting vaccinations.

Vargas also pointed out that many noncitizens believe they're not eligible for the vaccine, need health insurance, or have to pay for it. "Fifty-four percent of noncitizens say they don't know when or if they'll be vaccinated. That's one of four Latinos in the country," he said.

AAPI people are among the least vaccine hesitant, pointed out Janelle Wong, PhD, professor of American studies at the University of Maryland.

Older, less educated, and rural Asian Americans are less likely to be vaccinated, she said, but Pacific Islanders report relatively high rates of vaccination.

Michael Roberts, president and CEO of the First Nations Development Institute, noted that 44% of Native Americans have yet to be vaccinated, and half of those people don't plan to get shots. Among the barriers that have to be overcome, he said, were taking time off from jobs and a lack of transportation to vaccination sites.

He emphasized that doctors' offices were the best place for many Native Americans to be vaccinated.

Peter Szilagyi, MD, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA, said he saw more similarities than differences among the attitudes of racial groups in the survey results. However, he added, past discrimination does affect vaccine uptake by minorities.

"To end this pandemic, we need a much higher proportion of people vaccinated than we do now," he said. "We need a full court press — not to pressure people, but to inform them, to engender trust, to address their concerns, and to make it easier to get vaccinated."

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