There are, of course, a variety of reasons someone might be hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. And although it might be easy to think, based on news headlines, that most people who are hesitant to get vaccinated are intransigent vaccine skeptics, CivicScience data from last month offer a different picture. 

First, vaccine hesitancy doesn’t appear to be due to concerns about potential side effects. There’s an equal amount of concern about adverse side effects among those likely to get vaccinated (35%), those unsure about getting vaccinated (36%), and those unlikely to get vaccinated (36%). 

Vaccine hesitancy also does not appear to be driven entirely by skepticism toward all vaccines. Although there’s a definite connection between willingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and feelings about vaccines in general, more than half of those who are unsure about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine (57%) say they are at least somewhat comfortable with vaccinations. In contrast, the same is true for only 35% of Americans who are unlikely to get vaccinated.

In fact, our data show that among all Americans yet to be vaccinated, just under half (46%) say the reason they have yet to do so is because of simple logistics, such as trouble getting an appointment or because they’re still letting others who are at higher risk go first.

Do Those on the Fence Just Need More Information?

There’s at least one additional factor the data suggest is important, too, for understanding vaccine hesitancy. And that’s the degree to which individuals actively seek out information prior to making decisions.

Evidence from some of our surveys on consumer behavior suggests that Americans who are unsure about getting a COVID-19 vaccine are less active information-seekers when it comes to making general purchases compared to those who plan to get vaccinated

For instance, relative to those who are at least somewhat likely to get vaccinated, Americans who are unsure are less likely to visit stores to compare prices and less likely to compare products across websites.

It’s unclear if such behavior translates to outside the consumer market. But if it does, it could mean that many Americans who are still unsure about getting vaccinated simply haven’t yet figured out which vaccines are available in their area and how to obtain them. 

This idea is bolstered by data showing that Americans unsure about getting vaccinated are also generally disengaged from the latest news and information about COVID-19. When asked, “What’s the primary way you’re getting news about COVID-19?” nearly one-quarter of those who are unsure about getting vaccinated (22%) say they are not at all keeping up with news about the pandemic. By comparison, only 6% of those planning to get vaccinated say the same.

How to Reach the Unsure

One of the unique challenges to combating vaccine hesitancy is that, unlike in an election, where it’s also common for some to remain undecided for a period of time, in a pandemic there’s no set date by which we all need to have our minds made up about what we’re going to do.

Humans excel at putting off dealing with remote threats, so it should come as little surprise that many Americans remain undecided about whether or not to get a COVID-19 vaccine. What is surprising though is that, for a sizable share of the unvaccinated, the reasons for hesitating boil down to matters involving scheduling and logistics and (possibly) lack of awareness.

What does this mean for health officials and others looking to persuade more Americans to get vaccinated? There are, of course, no easy answers to the question of how best to market and deliver vaccine information to those who most need it, as no single approach will work equally well across all groups. But when crafting marketing strategies to encourage more Americans to get vaccinated, health officials should take into consideration the diversity among communities in their area and recognize how such diversity contributes to differences in media habits and information literacy and constraints on free time.