With US states frantically preparing to begin months of COVID-19 vaccinations that could end the pandemic, a poll has found only about half of Americans are ready to roll up their sleeves.
The survey from The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research found about a quarter of US adults weren’t sure if they wanted to get vaccinated.
Roughly another quarter said they would not.
Many on the fence had safety concerns and wanted to watch how the initial rollout fared.
The scepticism could hinder the campaign against the scourge that has killed more than 295,000 Americans – and climbing. On Wednesday (local time), the US reported at least 3112 deaths from the virus – more than the 2996 who died in the September 11 terror attacks.
It surpassed the previous record of 2861 deaths, set on December 3, and marked the first time the virus had claimed 3000 American lives or more in a single day.
The number of COVID patients hospitalised nationwide grew to a new all-time high of 105,805 by late Wednesday, up 18 per cent on the previous two weeks.
Ten mostly rural counties across California reported having no intensive care unit beds available on Wednesday.
In California’s Central Valley, COVID-19 admissions have overwhelmed some hospitals altogether.
In Fresno County, home to a million people, only seven ICU beds remained unfilled on Wednesday.
Experts estimate at least 70 per cent of the US population needs to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, or the point at which enough people are protected that the virus can be held in check.
“Trepidation is a good word. I have a little bit of trepidation towards it,” said Kevin Buck, a 53-year-old former Marine from Eureka, California.
Mr Buck said he and his family would probably get vaccinated eventually, if early shots went well.
“It seems like a little rushed but I know there was absolutely a reason to rush it,” he said of the vaccine, which was developed with remarkable speed, less than a year after the virus was identified.
“I think a lot of people are not sure what to believe, and I’m one of them.”
Amid a frightening surge in COVID-19 that promises a bleak winter across the country, the challenge for authorities is to figure out what it will take to make people trust the vaccine that top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has called the light at the end of the tunnel.
“If Dr Fauci says it’s good, I will do it,” said Mary Lang, 71, of Fremont, California.
“Hopefully if enough of us get the vaccine, we can make this virus go away.”
Early data suggests the two US frontrunners – one vaccine by Pfizer and BioNTech and another by Moderna – offer strong protection.
The Food and Drug Administration is poring over study results to be sure the shots are safe before deciding whether to allow mass vaccinations.
Britain began giving the Pfizer-BioNTech jab to its most vulnerable people this week. Canada has approved the same vaccine, with a rollout likely to begin in late December.
But despite the hopeful news on coronavirus vaccines and the deadly toll wrought by the pandemic, sentiments in the US haven’t changed much from an AP-NORC poll in May.
In the survey of 1117 adults conducted from December 3-7, about three in 10 said they were very or extremely confident that the first available vaccines might not have been properly tested for safety and effectiveness.
About an equal number said they were not confident. The rest fell somewhere in the middle.
Experts have stressed no corners were cut during the vaccine’s development, attributing the speedy work to billions in government funding and more than a decade of behind-the-scenes research.
Among those who did not want to get vaccinated, about three in 10 said they weren’t concerned about getting seriously ill from the virus. A quarter did not believe the outbreak was as serious as some said.