Vaccinated adults are nearly twice as likely as unvaccinated ones to worry that new variants will worsen the pandemic

Aug. 5, 2021

As COVID-19’s Delta variant becomes the dominant strain in the U.S., most of the public say that they are worried that new virus variants will worsen the pandemic across the country (62%) and in their communities (55%).

Much larger shares of the vaccinated than unvaccinated say that they worry that variants will worsen the pandemic both in the country (74% and 39%) and in their communities (65% and 34%). Vaccinated people are also more likely than unvaccinated ones to worry that they personally will get sick from the new variants (40% and 27%).

As public health officials struggle to boost vaccination rates nationally, the latest KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor reports that a narrow majority (53%) of unvaccinated adults believe the vaccine poses a bigger risk to their health than COVID-19 itself.

In contrast, an overwhelming majority (88%) of vaccinated adults say that getting infected with COVID-19 is a bigger risk to their health than the vaccine.

Relatively small shares of unvaccinated adults also believe the vaccines are “extremely” or “very” effective at preventing death (23%), serious illness or hospitalization (21%), or getting infected after exposure (13%), in spite of substantial evidence and the conclusions of official scientific bodies that the vaccines work well at each of those things. Vaccinated adults are at least three times as likely to believe the vaccines prevent those outcomes.

Most (57%) unvaccinated adults also say that the news has “generally exaggerated” the seriousness of the pandemic, while three-fourths of vaccinated adults say the news has been “generally correct” (53%) or has “underestimated” its seriousness (24%). Among those who say they will “definitely not” get a vaccine, 75% say the news is exaggerated.

The sharply different views of the vaccinated and unvaccinated help to explain the contentiousness of ongoing policy debates about vaccine mandates.

For example, vaccinated adults are far more likely than unvaccinated adults to say the federal government should recommend employers require vaccinations among their workers (68% vs. 16%). The public overall is split, with similar shares saying they think the federal government should recommend this (51%) and should not (45%).

Vaccinated adults also are more likely to say they wear masks in grocery stores and other indoor places (53% vs. 44%), at work (45% vs. 35%), or in crowded outdoor settings (45% vs. 35%).

Most vaccinated people who have heard or read at least a little about the new variants say the news has made them more likely to wear a mask in public (62%) and to avoid large gatherings (61%). Smaller shares of unvaccinated adults say they are more likely either to wear a mask (37%) or avoid large gatherings (40%).

Other results include:

  • Most adults (60%) say they have read or heard about the possibility that some vaccinated people might need COVID-19 booster shots to maintain their protection. A quarter (24%) of vaccinated adults who have heard about the potential need for booster shots say that this has caused them to worry that they may not be well-protected against the virus.
  • Confidence in the safety of the three COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the U.S. has not changed significantly since April. About three-quarters (74%) of adults now say the vaccines are safe. Similar shares say the Pfizer (72%) and Moderna (68%) vaccines are safe. About half (47%) say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe.

Visit KFF for more

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