Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

Where is it coming from?

I spent a good chunk of last week talking with people about reasons why people are not taking the vaccines for Covid-19 despite the fact they’ve been proven safe, been proven effective, and are free. I have heard a number of excuses in person—perhaps the subject for another post. But those are all anecdotal stories, though evidence that such reasons exist. Well this weekend I found some quantitative data.

The source is the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a group that focuses on health, health information and its communication. For Covid-19 they’ve been running quite a bit of information communication as one can imagine. One part of that? Public polling.

The latest survey covers the middle of June, but does include a question on why the unvaccinated remain unvaccinated.

Let’s start from the top, shall we?

I’ve got some quibbles with the design of the chart, primarily axis labels vs. a data label for every single bar, but I want to focus on the content today.

The vaccines is too new? I will grant you that it was developed very quickly. But there are two big reasons for that. First, to give the Trump administration credit where credit is due, whilst they didn’t really plan for a federal rollout of the vaccine they did eliminate much of the red tape and bureaucratic hassles that can slow down vaccine research. They did not, however, reduce the scientific rigour with which the vaccines were tested. Keep in mind that often times we heard stories of how the administration wanted to approve the drug well before it was ready. That is a sign that the testing wasn’t rushed.

Second, the mRNA method is new, but had been in advanced stages of research for a number of diseases including both influenza and zika. Scientists simply began to “reprogramme” the RNA bit to battle the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. In other words, we had been researching the type of vaccines for decades, but we just found a new target for its first widespread application.

Worried about side effects? Fair question. Last numbers I specifically saw were something like fewer than 300 severe allergic reactions out of over 3,000,000 million doses of Pfizer. In other words, that was a 0.01% chance. If you get Covid-19, the mortality rate is somewhere between 1% and 5%. In other words, you’re far more likely to get sick or even get sick and die from Covid-19 than from the Covid-19 vaccine.

Just don’t want to get the vaccine? Well now you’re being selfish. Vaccines aren’t just about you. They are a public health and safety measure. If you get sick, you put others at risk. In 1905, we heard similar arguments for people not wanting to get the new smallpox vaccine. (A disease we’ve almost entirely eradicated thanks to vaccinations, go look up how devastating it was to populations pre-vaccine. I’ll wait.) But these people who didn’t want the smallpox vaccine took their argument of “it’s a personal choice” all the way to the Supreme Court.

They lost.

The Supreme Court decided that personal liberty does have limits and can be overruled by what we call the police power of the state, specifically when personal liberty risks public health and safety. Here’s a simlar example. I have the freedom to speak without being censored by the government. However, I cannot go into a crowded theatre and scream fire. Because at that point I am endangering the stampeding masses. The government has the right to limit my speech in that specific area.

There are lots of things we don’t want to do, but have to do. Getting vaccinated is one of those things.

Don’t trust the government? Well the vaccine wasn’t developed by the government. The three big ones in the United States are Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. For my UK audience, you’re also looking at Oxford-AstraZeneca. I believe it was Pfizer even rejected accepting development money from the US government specifically to ensure that its research remained above reproach. In other words, the government hired the scientists who conducted the tests that proved the vaccines were safe for use.

But, and this is the kicker, the vaccines first began to roll out to the public in December 2020. We now have seven months’ worth of evidence and data in real world scenarios. The vaccines consistently have been proven safe and effective.

Don’t think you need the vaccine? Well like I said above, the vaccine isn’t about just you, it’s about society at large. We have personal liberty, but social responsibility. And your choice to not get vaccinated threatens and endangers the lives of others. Because there are, and we’ll get to this, some people who cannot receive the vaccine even if they want to. And you not getting it, threatens them.

Don’t believe the Covid-19 vaccines are safe? We spent nearly six months studying them in clinical trials and they were proven safe. We now have an additional seven months of real world, in the shit testing. And they have been proven safe time after time after time.

Don’t trust vaccines in general? If you’re grandparents or great-grandparents are still alive, ask them about how deadly smallpox was. Or maybe ask your parents about how terrible the mumps were. Or measles. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Turns out they were pretty terrible. There was a reason that older generations generally rushed to get vaccines, because they protect us from the scourge of viruses and bacteria. I haven’t seen a person with smallpox in my entire life because vaccines all but eradicated the virus. (It exists only within the bio-weapon laboratories of the United States and the Russian Federation.)

Have a medical reason why they can’t receive the virus at this time? Great, I mean, not great, but this is a real reason why people cannot and should not receive the vaccine for Covid-19. And this is why we want everyone who doesn’t have a precluding reason to get the vaccine, so that we can help protect you. But hopefully you’ll be able to get vaccinated at some point in the future.

Too busy or have not had the time to get it? Well, it’s been several months and it’s increasingly hard to believe you don’t have a half-hour or an hour to spare. It took me a 15-minute walk and then walked through an empty, snaking line for about five minutes, then had the little prick in a minute, then waited 15 minutes. Then walked home. Did that twice in a matter of weeks.

But let’s say you’re working crazy hours. Well, that’s one reason the White House is asking employers to give employees paid time off to receive the vaccine.

Don’t like getting shots? Neither do I. I told that to the corpsman who administered my first shot and I simply looked away. I’d rather get two little pricks than risk needing to go to hospital or die or infecting someone else.

Worried about missing work? As I said above, it doesn’t take long. The actual processing is just a few minutes. You have to wait longer in observation to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction. But also like I said, that’s why the White House is pushing employers to give their employees paid time off to receive the vaccine.

Difficult to travel to a vaccination site? This would have been especially hard in the early months when the goal was to equip mass vaccination sites in city centres that could serve the most people the most effectively and the most efficiently. Since then, most pharmacies and many doctors offices are offering the vaccine. There are a number of mobile vaccination sites around.

Check out It will help you locate where you can get your shots.

Not sure how or where to get your vaccine? Again, check out and search for wherever you live.

Worried you will have to pay to get the vaccine? You don’t have to! The government is footing the bill for all of us. All you need to is show up with the required ID to prove you are who you say you are, wait your turn in line, get your shot, and wait for your observation period. Then, if you receive either Pfizer or Moderna, because you need two shots, you go back and present them with your vaccination card, and do it all over again.

But nowhere in that do you have to pay.

That was it for the reasons in the survey. But like I said, maybe I’ll address some of the other things in a post later this week.

Credit for the piece goes to the KFF graphics team.

Author: Brendan Barry

I am a graphic designer who focuses on information design. My day job? Well, they asked me not to say. But to be clear, this blog is my something I do on my own time and does not represent the views of…my employers. I think what I can say is that given my interest in information design—be it in the shape of clear charts, maps, diagrams, or wayfinding systems—I am fortunate that my day job focuses on data visualisation. Outside of work, I try to stay busy with personal design work. Away from the world of design, I have become an amateur genealogist and family historian. You will sometimes see that area of work bleed into my posts.

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