Spring Break crowds may be an indication Generation Z isn’t waiting for a vaccination to resume pre-pandemic routines.
But a new NBCLX/Morning Consult poll reveals a growing number of young adults may never get vaccinated.
The March 2021 poll found Gen Z and Millennial adults between 18 and 34 are now the most likely generations to say they will either not get vaccinated (23%) or they don’t yet know (21%), with Gen Z adults (18-23 years old) particularly disinterested.
That represents a steep increase in vaccine hesitancy from March 2020, when NBCLX and Morning Consult first polled about a possible coronavirus vaccine, during the most restrictive pandemic shutdowns. At that time, only 5% of Gen Z adults said they would not get vaccinated, with only 17% indicating they didn’t know if they would; in March 2021, those numbers stood at 26% and 19%, respectively.
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"The COVID-19 vaccine rollout has spotlighted not only partisan and racial divisions in willingness to receive a vaccine, but generational differences too," said Nick Laughlin, managing director at Morning Consult. "As more Gen Z’ers plan to not get vaccinated, we've also consistently tracked higher comfort among the generation to their normal routines throughout this past year."
The political divides over vaccinations — with just 50% of Donald Trump voters reporting plans to get inoculated, compared to 80% of Joe Biden voters — make the shift in Gen Z and Millennial attitudes even more conspicuous, as young voters tend to be much more progressive than older voters.
While young adults without certain health conditions are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in most states, President Biden announced a goal of opening eligibility nationwide to all adults by May 1.
“I think there is a sentiment amongst younger adults that they are protected against COVID-19 since much focus has been on older individuals and those with comorbidities,” said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, Vice Chair of the Global Health Committee at the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. “That is a misnomer.
“I’ve seen lots of young people who have had severe COVID and severe outcomes like ‘long-COVID,’ where they are living with symptoms, which can be quite debilitating. I don’t think [young adults] think about what it feels like to be, essentially, disabled.”
Overall, NBCLX and Morning Consult found 63% of U.S. adults have been vaccinated or plan to get vaccinated, nearly identical to the overall support from March 2020, despite the success of more than 125 million shots in American arms.
The poll, conducted from March 15-19, 2021, also reveals a significant divide growing along gender lines, with 71% of American men saying they had been — or plan to get — vaccinated, compared to just 55% of American women. However, 21% of women said they had not yet decided whether they would get a COVID-19 shot, compared to just 13% of men who were undecided.
Similar to American politics, it appears there are a lot fewer minds left to be made up than there used to be, with believers in vaccines becoming more convinced of their benefits and vaccine skeptics becoming more skeptical.
Sixty-five percent of Americans said they believed vaccines would be more effective at controlling the virus than social distancing, a nearly identical result from one year earlier. However, 22% of Americans disagreed with the statement — an increase of six points from a year earlier.
And despite the tragedy of more than 500,000 American deaths, 53% of adults said public health officials, government officials and the media have used too much doom and gloom language when communicating about COVID-19. That includes 72% of Republicans, but just 40% of Democrats.
However cautious about the vaccine, two-thirds of Americans say the potential benefits of a coronavirus vaccine will outweigh the potential side effects (66%), a 12-point increase since March 2020.
Hispanic Hesitancy Rising
The March 2021 poll shows a shrinking racial divide on vaccine skepticism, a good sign for advocates working to build trust among Black communities, which tend to be less trusting of health officials after generations of systemic racism.
However, 41% of Hispanics responded they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, or they had not yet decided, compared to the 37% national average. One year earlier, Hispanics were the most-trusting ethnicity on potential COVID-19 vaccines, with only 5% indicating they would not get vaccinated and 29% indicating some vaccine hesitancy.
“We spent all this money developing vaccines, but nothing on a campaign to educate people on the importance of getting vaccinated,” Kuppalli said. “Unfortunately, we did not do that and it allowed misinformation to spread on social media before the vaccine was even approved.
“The amount of misinformation out there, combined with this being a new vaccine developed in record time makes people nervous. And most importantly, I don’t think they understand what it all means...we need to have grassroots outreach efforts to these communities so we can answer questions and address concerns.”
Hispanic respondents also showed less support in 2021 for making coronavirus vaccines free to all Americans (78%, down 11 points from March 2020), or mandating vaccines for all Americans (57%, down 10 points from March 2020).
Other Coronavirus Trends
NBCLX and Morning Consult found 52% of U.S. adults believe the vaccine should be required for all eligible Americans, compared to 40% who disagree — a slight shift from March 2020, when 54% said they favored a vaccine mandate, with just 35% opposing.
And 66% of Americans believe the potential benefits of coronavirus vaccines will outweigh the potential side effects, a 12-point increase from one year earlier. That includes 63% of Hispanics, a 9-point increase from March 2020.
Seventy-one percent of respondents indicated they would continue to wear masks after they are fully vaccinated, but only 61% said proof of vaccination should be required to board a flight or attend large public events like concerts or sporting events.
The recent survey polled 2,200 U.S. adults from March 15-19, 2021. The overall margin of error was +/- 2%, with a 6% margin of error on Gen Z results.
Noah Pransky is NBCLX’s National Political Editor. He covers Washington and state politics for NBCLX, and his investigative work has been honored with national Murrow, Polk, duPont, and Cronkite awards. You can contact him confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.