OU finds “worrying” hesitation about coronavirus vaccine and calls for more aggressive public health messages

Nearly a quarter of Oregon residents say they will not receive the coronavirus vaccine, a finding that researchers at the University of Oregon say should be a “bugle” for a more aggressive fight against disinformation.

Skepticism about vaccination runs deep in certain sectors of society in the United States, and particularly in Oregon – one of the few states that allows philosophical exemptions for schoolchildren whose parents do not want them to be vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

Although not getting a vaccine can be a danger to public health, regardless of the disease you want to prevent, the coronavirus is a special case because someone is unlikely to be immune. Those who have been vaccinated still need to receive another vaccine, and it is unclear how long immunity lasts for those who have recovered from COVID-19.

About 3 million Oregon residents must be vaccinated for the state’s 4.2 million population to obtain collective immunity, which is when enough people are inoculated so that everyone is at substantially less risk of contracting the disease. The more people are vaccinated, however, the safer for society as a whole.

Benjamin Clark, a researcher at the University of Oregon, wanted to know exactly how well positioned Oregon is to fight and ultimately end the pandemic, since much of that work depends on individual choices. What he found, said Clark, was worse than he expected.

“There is really a deep-seated ignorance,” said Clark.


This applied to more than just fear of the coronavirus vaccine, said Clark, his research also identified worrying patterns that he said were likely to contribute to the severity of the pandemic.

About one in five of the 638 people who answered Clark’s questions said they never distance themselves socially when they are with friends. Three out of ten said they never wear a mask when meeting with friends indoors. One in 10 said he meets with 10 or more people weekly.

“These behaviors are contributing to the spread of COVID-19,” says the report that summarizes Clark’s findings.

But far from being just disgrace and melancholy, the University of Oregon research points to a perfect opportunity for health officials to take action, said Clark: Focusing on 33% of Oregon residents who said they have not yet decided how they feel in relation to taking an injection.

The key to moving these Oregon residents is to strengthen the safety of the vaccine, said Clark, because those who said they “can” get a vaccine were more likely to say that they feared it would pass them on to the coronavirus.

But it is not enough to simply say that the coronavirus vaccine is safe. Instead, Clark said, the state should actively identify conspiracy and misinformation theories and publicly unmask them.

He said agencies should also be open about the real risks of vaccines, making it clear that those risks are almost non-existent when compared to the potential results of a coronavirus infection.

“The general public is used to the concept of side effects,” said Robert Parker, one of Clark’s colleagues on the project, urging officials to trust Oregon residents to understand the balance between risks and benefits. “They can handle that, too.”

Stronger messages would save lives, Clark said. The good news is that Oregon has plenty of time to wait before most Oregon residents actually have the option of getting the coronavirus vaccine. The authorities are making a long and imprecise list of populations prioritized for vaccination.

With current vaccine delivery rates, it will only be 2021 before people who are not elderly or essential workers can get the vaccine. The state is currently working with approximately 300,000 frontline healthcare professionals, while pharmaceutical giants CVS and Walgreens are giving injections to some 60,000 people who live or work in elderly care.

By midnight, 14,524 Oregon residents had received the first of two mandatory vaccines.

The OU researchers shared their findings with state health officials, as well as Lane County Public Health. Agency spokesman Jason Davis said he was not surprised by the results, given the findings of an October survey focused on Lane County and anecdotal observations from health officials.

Clark’s findings point to an increasing hesitation about vaccines, Davis said, even among those who “derive their beliefs and opinions from solid empirical data and scientific research,” and an increasing fatigue around mask use and social detachment.

“We have a lot of work for us!” Davis said.

– Fedor Zarkhin | [email protected] | 503-294-7674