73% say they are vaccinated, but at least half express confusion, concern over vaccine information and health impacts
More than a year and a half into the coronavirus outbreak, large shares of Americans continue to see the coronavirus as a major threat to public health and the U.S. economy. And despite widespread vaccination efforts, 54% of U.S. adults say the worst of the outbreak is still to come.
The toll of restrictions on public activities in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus is deeply felt across groups: Overwhelming majorities say restrictions have done a lot or some to hurt businesses and economic activity and keep people from living their lives the way they want. Smaller majorities say these restrictions have helped at least some to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus and to slow the spread of the virus. Still, when asked to issue an overall judgment, Americans on balance view the public health benefits of these restrictions as having been worth the costs (62% to 37%).
A new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted from Aug. 23 to 29 among 10,348 U.S. adults, prior to President Joe Biden’s announcement of COVID-19 vaccine mandates for employers, finds that 73% of those ages 18 and older say they’ve received at least one dose of a vaccine for COVID-19, with the vast majority of this group saying they have received all the shots they need to be fully vaccinated. About a quarter of adults (26%) say they have not received a vaccine.
Vaccination rates vary significantly across demographic groups, with smaller majorities of younger adults, those with lower family incomes and those living in rural areas saying they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. No more than six-in-ten of those without health insurance and White evangelical Protestants say they’ve been vaccinated (57% each). Notably, Black adults are now about as likely as White adults to say they’ve received a vaccine. Earlier in the outbreak, Black adults were less likely than White adults to say they planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Partisan affiliation remains one of the widest differences in vaccination status: 86% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 60% of Republicans and Republican leaners.
Americans express a range of sometimes cross-pressured sentiments toward vaccines. Overall, 73% say the statement “vaccines are the best way to protect Americans from COVID-19” describes their views very or somewhat well; 60% say their views are described at least somewhat well by the statement “people who choose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine are hurting the country.”
At the same time, 51% of the public says that the phrase “there’s too much pressure on Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine” describes their own views very or somewhat well. And 61% say the same about the statement “we don’t really know yet if there are serious health risks from COVID-19 vaccines.”
Vaccinated adults and those who have not received a vaccine differ widely in their views of vaccines – as well as other elements of the broader coronavirus outbreak. For instance, 77% of vaccinated adults say the statement “people who choose not to get a COVID-19 vaccine are hurting the country” describes them at least somewhat well. By contrast, 88% of those who have not received a vaccine say that “there’s too much pressure on Americans to get a COVID-19 vaccine” describes their own views very or somewhat well.
However, vaccinated adults are not without anxieties and concerns surrounding vaccines: 54% of this group says the statement “we don’t really know yet if there are serious health risks from COVID-19 vaccines” describes them very or somewhat well, and 50% say the same about the statement “it’s hard to make sense of all the information about COVID-19 vaccines.”
With the delta variant having changed the trajectory of the outbreak in the United States and around the world, large majorities continue to see a number of steps as necessary to address the coronavirus, including requiring masks for travelers on airplanes and public transportation (80%), restricting international travel (79%) and asking people to avoid gathering in large groups (73%).
The public is closely divided over limiting restaurants to carry-out and closing K-12 schools for in-person learning: About as many adults say these steps are unnecessary as say they are necessary.
Vaccination requirements for in-person activities have gone into effect in a number of U.S. cities, including New Orleans, New York City and San Francisco. A 61% majority of Americans favor requiring adults to show proof of vaccination before being allowed to travel by airplane. More than half also say proof of vaccination should be required to attend public colleges and universities (57%) and to go to sporting events and concerts (56%).
However, the public is less convinced that vaccine requirements are needed in other settings. Equal shares of Americans favor and oppose requiring proof of vaccination to eat inside of a restaurant (50% vs. 50%), and 54% say they oppose a vaccination requirement to shop inside stores and businesses.
The intertwined dynamics of partisan affiliation and vaccination status are visible in views of policies to limit the spread of the coronavirus and vaccine requirements. Democrats offer broad support for most measures, while Republicans back select steps – like limiting international travel and requiring masks on public transportation – while opposing others and offering very little support for vaccine mandates. Similarly, vaccinated adults are far more supportive of policy steps aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus – and vaccine requirements – than are those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Changes to public health guidance over course of outbreak: understandable, but also a source of concern for at least half of Americans
Over the course of the pandemic, public health officials have changed their recommendations about how to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the U.S.
A majority of Americans (61%) say changes to public health recommendations since the start of the outbreak have made sense because scientific knowledge is always being updated. About half (51%) say these changes have reassured them that public health officials are staying on top of new information.
However, changes to public health guidance have also sparked confusion and skepticism among significant shares of the public: 55% say changes made them wonder if public health officials were holding back important information, 53% say it made them feel confused and 51% say it made them less confident in officials’ recommendations.
Taken together, 63% of U.S. adults say they’ve felt at least one of two negative reactions regarding public health officials because of changing guidance: wondering if they were holding back important information or feeling less confident in their recommendations.
Mask wearing – among the most visible examples of shifting public health guidance, as well as a policy flashpoint at the state and local level – has become less frequent since earlier this year. Overall, 53% of U.S. adults say they’ve been wearing a mask or face covering all or most of the time when in stores and businesses over the last month, down 35 percentage points from 88% who said this in February (when mask requirements around the country were more widespread).
The practice of mask wearing is now far more common among Democrats and those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Democrats are now more than twice as likely as Republicans to say they’ve been wearing a mask in stores and businesses all or most of the time in recent weeks (71% vs. 30%). In February, large shares of both Democrats and Republicans had reported frequent mask wearing (93% and 83%, respectively).
People who have received a COVID-19 vaccine (59%) are more likely than those who have not (37%) to say they’ve been wearing a mask all or most of the time when inside stores or businesses. Frequent mask wearing is especially high among those who say they are very concerned about getting a serious case of the disease (80%).
Black adults about as likely as White adults to have received a COVID-19 vaccine
Vaccination rates differ across key demographic groups and traits, including age, family income, partisanship, health insurance status, community type and religious affiliation.
Comparable majorities of Black (70%) and White (72%) adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Among Hispanic adults, 76% say they have received a vaccine, as do an overwhelming majority of English-speaking Asian adults (94%).
At earlier stages of the outbreak, Black adults had expressed significantly lower levels of intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine than White adults.
The vaccination rate among White evangelical Protestants continues to lag behind those of other major religious groups: 57% of White evangelicals say they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared with 73% of White Protestants who are not evangelicals, 75% of religiously unaffiliated adults and 82% of Catholics. For more details on vaccination status by religion, see the Appendix.
Older adults remain more likely than younger adults to have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Age differences in vaccination status are much more pronounced among Republicans and Republican leaners than among Democrats and Democratic leaners. See the Appendix for more details.
These are among the principal findings from Pew Research Center’s survey of 10,348 U.S. adults conducted from Aug. 23 to 29, 2021, on the coronavirus outbreak and Americans’ views of a COVID-19 vaccine. The survey also finds:
39% say most businesses in the U.S. should require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Another 35% say businesses should encourage employees to get a vaccine, but not require it. A quarter of the public says most businesses should neither require nor encourage employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine. The survey was fielded before President Joe Biden’s announcement that employers with more than 100 workers will be required to have their workers vaccinated or tested weekly for the coronavirus.
72% say they personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died from COVID-19. As has been the case throughout the outbreak, larger shares of Black (82%) and Hispanic (78%) adults than White (70%) and English-speaking Asian adults (64%) say they personally know someone who has been hospitalized or died as a result of the coronavirus.
A relatively small share of Americans (26%) are aware that few adults in developing countries have access to COVID-19 vaccines. A majority (76%) places importance on the U.S. providing large numbers of COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, though just 26% call this a top priority for the U.S.
Biden’s job ratings for handling the outbreak have declined. Larger shares now say Joe Biden is doing an only fair or poor job (52%) responding to the coronavirus outbreak than say he is doing an excellent or good job (47%). In February, 54% said he was doing an excellent or good job. By contrast, Americans continue to give very high marks to hospitals and medical centers in their area: 85% say they are doing an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
Republicans grow more skeptical of scientists’ judgment. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) say scientists’ judgments are just as likely to be biased as other people’s, up from 55% who said this in January 2019. By contrast, a growing share of Democrats take the opposite view and say scientists make judgments solely on the facts (73% of Democrats say this today, up from 62% in 2019).
Large partisan gap persists in whether COVID-19 poses serious public health threat
A majority of Americans (61%) continue to say the coronavirus outbreak poses a major threat to the health of the U.S. population as a whole. Another 33% say the virus is a minor threat, while just 6% say it is not a threat.
The share that views the coronavirus as a major threat to public health has largely held steady since late March of 2020, following the declaration of a national public health emergency in the U.S. The current share that views the coronavirus as a major threat to public health is about the same as it was in February 2021 (63%), when the country was coming out of a peak of cases and COVID-19-related deaths, and before widespread rollout of the vaccine.
A larger majority of U.S. adults (72%) say the coronavirus outbreak is a major threat to the U.S. economy. This is down slightly from February of this year, when 81% saw the outbreak as a major threat to the economy.
Large partisan divides persist in views of the public health threat posed by COVID-19. Eight-in-ten Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party say the outbreak is a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, while just 38% of Republicans and Republican leaners say the same. The partisan gap on this question is as wide as it has been at any point during the pandemic.
By contrast, majorities of both Democrats (75%) and Republicans (69%) see the COVID-19 outbreak as a major threat to the country’s economy. While economic concerns remain high, the shares of both parties who see the virus as a serious concern for the economy have moved lower since February, when 83% of Democrats and 81% of Republicans said it was a major threat.
Vaccination status is closely tied to perceptions of the public health threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak: 70% of vaccinated adults view it as a major threat to the health of the U.S. population, compared with just 37% of adults who have not received a vaccine. There is shared concern over the impact on the economy, however: Majorities of both vaccinated (74%) and unvaccinated (67%) adults say the coronavirus poses a major threat to the U.S. economy.
Hospitals, medical centers continue to receive positive ratings for their outbreak response; Biden’s ratings decline
The public continues to rate the job their local hospitals have done responding to the coronavirus very positively; these ratings have been consistently high since the early days of the pandemic. Ratings for President Joe Biden’s handling of the outbreak have declined since February and now tilt more negative than positive. Assessments of other groups, including public health officials and state and local elected officials, are steady since February, but remain lower than they were in the early stages of the outbreak.
Overall, 47% say Biden is doing an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak, while slightly more (52%) say he is doing an only fair or poor job. Ratings for Biden have declined since February, shortly after he took office, when 54% said he was doing an excellent or good job.
A large majority of Americans (85%) say their hospitals and medical centers are doing an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak, identical to the share who said this in February 2021.
Six-in-ten say public health officials, such as those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are doing an excellent or good job in their coronavirus response. This rating is lower than it was during the early months of the outbreak, but about the same as it was in February of this year (62%).
A majority of Americans (56%) also say that their local elected officials are doing an excellent or good job responding to the outbreak. A slightly smaller share (50%) rate their state elected officials’ responses as excellent or good. As with ratings of public health officials, assessments of local and state elected officials are lower than they were early in the outbreak, but are about the same as they were when the questions were last asked six months ago.
Republicans and Democrats share positive assessments of the COVID-19 response from their local hospitals and medical centers but differ widely on the job public health officials and Biden are doing.
Large majorities of Republicans (83%) and Democrats (88%) say hospitals and medical centers in their area are doing an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
By contrast, a much larger share of Democrats (79%) than Republicans (37%) give positive ratings to the job public health officials, such as those at the CDC, have done responding to the outbreak. Ratings of public health officials among Republicans are down 7 percentage points since February; as a result, the partisan gap in assessments of public health officials has grown even wider (from 35 points to 42 points in the current survey).
Partisan divides are even larger for ratings of Biden. About three-quarters of Democrats (74%) say he is doing an excellent or good job responding to the coronavirus pandemic, compared with just 15% of Republicans – a 59-point gap. Ratings of Biden are down among both parties since February, when 84% of Democrats and 20% of Republicans rated his performance highly.
The size of the partisan gap in ratings of Biden is similar to differences seen in ratings of former President Donald Trump at the end of his administration. In February, 71% of Republicans said he did an excellent or good job responding to the pandemic during his time in office, compared with just 7% of Democrats.
There are modest differences between Republicans and Democrats in assessments of how their local and state elected officials are handling the outbreak. Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to rate the job being done by local officials (60% vs. 53%) and state elected officials (55% vs. 45%) as excellent or good.
54% of Americans say worst still to come from coronavirus outbreak
Thinking about the problems the country is facing from the outbreak, a narrow majority (54%) says they think the worst is still to come, while 45% say the worst is behind us.
Views are more positive than they were in November 2020 – before COVID-19 vaccines were approved for use in the U.S. – when just 28% of Americans thought the worst was behind us and 71% said the worst was still yet to come.
Republicans and Republican leaners are slightly more optimistic about the state of the outbreak than Democrats and Democratic leaners: 53% of Republicans say the worst is behind us, while 59% of Democrats take the opposing view and think the worst is still to come.
Adults who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and those who have not view the state of the coronavirus outbreak in similar terms: 53% of vaccinated and 56% of unvaccinated adults say the worst of the problems from the outbreak are still to come.
The toll of restrictions on public activity are widely felt, but majority in U.S. sees public health benefits as worth the cost
Nearly all adults in the U.S. say that coronavirus-related restrictions on public activity have hurt businesses and economic activity either a lot (69%) or some (26%); just 5% say these restrictions have hurt businesses not too much or not at all.
Large shares also say restrictions on public activity have kept people from living their lives the way they want either a lot (58%) or some (31%).
Americans are less convinced of how much the restrictions have helped to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus and helped to slow its spread. Majorities say the restrictions have helped at least some in each regard, but only about three-in-ten say they have done a lot to help prevent hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 (32%) or slow the spread of the coronavirus (31%).
Nonetheless, when asked to assess the overall impact of the restrictions on public activity, a majority of Americans (62%) say the public health benefits have been worth the costs; significantly fewer (37%) say they have not been worth the costs.
Vaccinated adults (those who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine) are less likely than those who have not received a vaccine to say restrictions on public activity have done a lot to hurt businesses and keep people from living their lives, and they are more likely to say restrictions have done a lot to help prevent serious illnesses and slow the virus’s spread. For example, 40% of vaccinated adults say restrictions have helped a lot to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from the virus, compared with just 12% of unvaccinated adults who say the same.
These two groups arrive at differing conclusions about the overall impact of the restrictions: 73% of vaccinated adults say the public health benefits of the restrictions have been worth the costs, while 33% of those not vaccinated say this. A majority of those not vaccinated (65%) say the health benefits of the restrictions have not been worth the costs.
There are also wide differences in views of the public health restrictions by partisanship, with Republicans being more likely than Democrats to say the restrictions have had negative impacts, and less likely to say they have helped a lot to prevent severe illnesses and slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Majorities in U.S. back proof of vaccination for air travel, college students
As several cities and businesses around the country have begun requiring customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to do things like eat at restaurants or attend concerts, Americans offer mixed views of these requirements, with opinion ranging from majority support to opposition, depending on the setting.
About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say they favor requiring adults in the U.S. to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before being allowed to travel by airplane, while 38% would oppose such a requirement. While some U.S. airlines have required their employees to get vaccinated, they have so far stopped short of requiring proof of vaccination from travelers – although some destinations, such as Hawaii, require visitors to either show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test result, or else quarantine for 10 days after arrival.
As the school year begins around the country, just under six-in-ten Americans (57%) say they favor requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for students to attend public colleges and universities in person. More than 800 U.S. colleges are requiring vaccinations for students and staff to be on campus, and more are strongly encouraging vaccination.
A narrow majority of adults (56%) also support requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend sporting events or concerts.
The public is evenly split over whether they would support or oppose being made to show proof of vaccination to eat inside of a restaurant. Some cities, such as New York, have required restaurants and bars to ask for proof of vaccination in response to rising infections and hospitalizations.
On balance, the public leans against requiring proof of vaccination to shop inside stores and businesses: 54% say they are opposed to this, while 45% support such a requirement.
Partisanship, as well as vaccination status, plays a large role in views about requiring coronavirus vaccines. Majorities of Democrats favor requiring adults to show proof of vaccination before doing all five of the activities included in the survey; by contrast, majorities of Republicans oppose each of these measures.
For example, 77% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party favor requiring those going to a sporting event or concert to show proof of vaccination, while 68% of Republicans and Republican leaners oppose requiring spectators to prove they’ve received a coronavirus vaccine.
Not surprisingly, adults who have not received a vaccine overwhelmingly oppose requiring proof of vaccination in these settings; roughly eight-in-ten or more oppose each of the five activities requiring proof of vaccination. Among those who have received at least one dose of a vaccine, majorities support requiring proof of vaccination, though the level of support varies from 56% for shopping inside stores and businesses to 77% for travel by airplane.
Differences in views by vaccination status exist within partisan groups. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 55% of vaccinated Republicans favor requiring proof of vaccination for air travel, compared with 12% of unvaccinated Republicans. Just under half of vaccinated Republicans back proof of vaccination for attending events and public colleges and universities (compared with only about 10% of unvaccinated Republicans). However, when it comes to requirements to eat inside restaurants or shop, majorities of Republicans, regardless of vaccination status, oppose having to provide proof of vaccination. (60% of Republicans and Republican leaners are vaccinated; 38% are not.)
Among Democrats and Democratic leaners, differences are even wider, with majorities of vaccinated Democrats in favor of requiring proof of vaccination in all five settings and majorities of unvaccinated Democrats opposed to all five requirements. However, those who have not received a vaccine represent a small share of all Democrats (14%), compared with 38% among Republicans.
Requiring masks on transit, restricting international travel, avoiding large gatherings widely seen as necessary steps to address coronavirus
When asked about policies in place in some areas of the country to address the coronavirus outbreak, 80% of Americans say they think it is necessary to require masks for people traveling on airplanes or public transportation. A similar majority (79%) says it is necessary to restrict international travel to the U.S.
About three-quarters of U.S. adults (73%) also think asking people to avoid gathering in large groups is a necessary step to deal with the outbreak.
The public is closely divided on the necessity of two other policies: limiting restaurants to carry-out only (50% necessary, 50% unnecessary) and closing K-12 schools for in-person learning (48% necessary, 51% unnecessary). In-person learning has recently restarted at most schools around the country – although some schools have had to temporarily revert to remote instruction due to coronavirus outbreaks among students or staff.
The shares of Americans that support each of these measures have stayed relatively stable since the questions were last asked in February 2021.
Vaccinated adults (including those who have received one of two vaccine doses) are more likely to see each of these five policies as necessary to address the outbreak than adults who have not received a vaccine.
For instance, 82% of vaccinated Americans think it is necessary to ask people to avoid gathering in large groups. About half of unvaccinated adults (49%) say this policy is necessary, while 51% say it is unnecessary.
There also are wide differences in views of policies aimed at addressing the coronavirus outbreak by partisanship, with Democrats expressing significantly more support for each policy than Republicans.
However, the magnitude of the partisan gap varies by policy.
For instance, majorities of Democrats (85%) and Republicans (73%) say it’s necessary to restrict international travel to the U.S. in order to address the coronavirus outbreak (a 12-point partisan gap).
By contrast, Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say it is necessary to limit restaurants to carry-out only (68% vs 26%) and to close K-12 schools for in-person learning (67% vs. 25%).
Decline in share of U.S. adults who report frequent mask wearing
Public health guidance on mask wearing has changed over the course of the outbreak, and policies requiring masks – or preventing mask requirements – have varied widely at the state and local level.
In the current survey, 53% of adults say that in the past month they have worn a mask or face covering all or most of the time when in stores and businesses; 21% say they have worn one some of the time and 25% say they’ve worn a mask in these public places hardly ever or never.
The share of U.S. adults who say they’ve been wearing a mask all or most of the time is down 35 points since February, when mask mandates were more widely in place around the country than they are today. The decline in frequent mask wearing has been much greater among Republicans (down 53 points) than among Democrats (down 22 points). In February, there was a modest partisan divide on this question as large majorities of both Republicans (83%) and Democrats (93%) said they had been wearing a mask all or most of the time in public. Today, the partisan gap has grown dramatically to 41 points as Democrats are now far more likely than Republicans to report wearing a mask all or most of the time when in stores and businesses (71% vs. 30%).
Vaccinated adults are significantly more likely than those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine to report frequently wearing a mask in public places.
About six-in-ten (59%) of those who have received at least one dose of a vaccine say they have been wearing a mask all or most of the time in stores and businesses over the last month. A much smaller share (37%) of those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine report this level of mask wearing; 45% of this group say they have been wearing a mask in stores and businesses hardly ever or never in the last month.
There is a strong link between personal concern about getting a serious case of the coronavirus and mask wearing. Eight-in-ten of those who are very concerned about getting the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization say they’ve been wearing a mask all or most of the time in stores and businesses. The share who report frequent mask wearing falls to 64% among those who are somewhat concerned about getting a serious case of the coronavirus and to 38% among those who are not too or not at all about getting the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization.
Mask-wearing habits also differ significantly by the type of community where people live. Nearly seven-in-ten adults who live in urban areas (68%) say they’ve been wearing a mask all or most of the time in stores and businesses, compared with 51% of those in suburban areas and 42% of those in rural areas.