1 in 4 Americans don’t trust the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines

A lot has changed in the U.S. since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic in March 2020. While our understanding of the novel coronavirus and treatments for the disease have improved, millions of people have fallen ill and died, and most aspects of daily life, including work, school, and recreation, remain disrupted throughout the country.

Health experts continue to point to the importance of testing and vaccinations as key factors in slowing the spread of the virus and returning life to normal. But how do Americans view these strategies, and what, if anything, about those views has changed throughout the course of the pandemic?

We surveyed a total of 1,672 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older in September 2020 and February 2021, to gauge the level of trust people have in COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and create a picture of how Americans view the virus after living with it for nearly a year.

Key Findings

  • As of February 2021, 68% of Americans said they trust COVID-19 testing, up slightly from 64% in September 2020
  • The rate of Americans who have been tested for COVID-19 has more than doubled since September, rising from 23% to 58%
  • More than ¼ of Americans don’t trust the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines
  • 25% of Americans say they don’t plan on getting vaccinated against COVID-19

Roughly ⅓ of Americans are still mistrustful of COVID-19 testing

In the pandemic’s early days, COVID-19 testing was plagued by problems, including inaccurate results, limited availability, and long wait times for results. These challenges contributed to doubt among Americans as to whether they could trust COVID-19 testing.

In September 2020, 64% of Americans said they trusted COVID-19 testing. By February 2021, that number had increased slightly, to 68%. Meanwhile, in September, 36% of those surveyed said they did not trust COVID-19 testing. That number decreased to 20% by February, although 12% of respondents said they weren’t sure, or chose not to answer.

Concerns about the accuracy of COVID-19 test results remains the biggest reason for people’s skepticism, and perhaps for good reason. No test for any illness is 100% accurate, and most COVID-19 tests were developed quickly, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with “emergency use authorization,” which has lower standards for demonstrating effectiveness.

In September, 58% of respondents who said they didn’t trust COVID-19 tests said it was because the tests were not 100% accurate. Although this declined somewhat, it remained high, at 50%, in February.

As turnaround time for COVID-19 test results has improved, fewer people are calling out long wait times for results as they reason they don’t trust testing. Seven percent of respondents to our February survey said they don’t trust testing because it takes too long to get test results, down from 16% in September.

Aside from accuracy and logistical issues, misinformation about the pandemic’s causes and severity were driving factors in people’s mistrust of COVID-19 testing. In September, 20% of survey respondents said they didn’t trust COVID-19 testing because they saw the virus as part of a conspiracy to drive revenue to pharmaceutical companies. By February, the percentage of respondents who held that view decreased by more than half, to 8%.

However, other conspiracy theories about COVID-19 appear to be more firmly entrenched. In September, 23% of people said they didn’t trust COVID-19 testing because it was part of a conspiracy to control the population; 22% of people continued to voice that opinion in February. Meanwhile, 6% of respondents to the February survey said they don’t trust testing because COVID-19 isn’t real, down only slightly from 9% in September.

The number of people who have been tested for COVID-19 increased by 35% between September and February

Even as doubts remain about COVID-19 testing, the percentage of people who have been tested for the virus has increased significantly since September. In our fall survey, 23% of respondents said they had been tested for COVID-19. That number rose to 58% in February.

The number of people who said they got tested because they experienced COVID-19 symptoms increased from 7% in September to 32% in February, reflecting surges in infections in November and December.

More individuals are also getting tested out of caution, even if they are not experiencing symptoms. As of September, 16% of people said they got tested as a precautionary measure, even though they had no symptoms. By February, 24% of people gave this reason for why they had gotten tested. An additional 17% of people said they had taken a precautionary test as a requirement for work or travel.

 

Just over half of Black Americans trust COVID-19 testing, compared to nearly ¾ of White Americans

COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on certain groups, including communities of color, has been well documented. Our surveys found that the level of trust in COVID-19 testing also varies by demographics, including ethnicity, age, and education level.

As of February, Black Americans are the ethnic group least likely to say they trust COVID-19 testing. Fifty-three percent of Black respondents said they trust the tests, 25% said they do not, and 22% said they aren’t sure. Among Black respondents who said they don’t trust COVID-19 tests, the majority, 56%, said it is because the tests are not 100% accurate. By comparison, 68% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents, 70% of Asian respondents, and 71% of White respondents said they trust COVID-19 testing.

Among age groups, younger adults are more likely than older adults to be skeptical of COVID-19 testing. Respondents ages 25-34 are the most likely to express doubt, with only 59% saying they trust COVID-19 tests. More than one-fourth of people in this age group, 28%, said they do not trust COVID-19 testing. By comparison, more than three-fourths of 45-54 year-olds, 76%, said they do believe testing is trustworthy, with only 9% of people in this age group saying they don’t trust testing.

As for the reasons why they don’t trust COVID-19 testing, 38% of 25-34 year-olds said it is because the tests are not completely accurate, while 36% said it’s because they believe COVID-19 is part of a conspiracy to control the population.

An individual’s level of education also appears to influence whether they trust COVID-19 testing. Eighty-six percent of people with a postgraduate degree, and 65% of people with a 2- or 4-year degree, said they trust COVID-19 testing, compared to 55% of people whose highest level of education is a high school diploma. As with other groups, the primary reason for mistrust is the lack of accuracy, with 42% of people saying that this is why they don’t trust COVID testing.

As COVID-19 vaccine rollouts accelerate, 40% of Americans are skeptical of vaccination

Since we conducted our September survey, the FDA approved two vaccines for COVID-19, developed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, respectively. Therefore, in our February survey, we polled respondents about whether or not they trust these vaccines.

Our survey found that 60% of Americans do trust the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines, 27% do not, and 13% are not sure.

Roughly one-third of survey respondents, 34%, said their mistrust stems from a lack of research and/or evidence about the long-term effects of the vaccines. Eighteen percent of respondents said they don’t trust the vaccines because they were developed too quickly, and 16% noted potential side effects as the reason for their skepticism.

Meanwhile, for 6% of respondents, their reasons echoed their mistrust of COVID-19 testing, saying that they also don’t trust the vaccine because they think it’s part of a conspiracy to drive revenue to pharmaceutical companies.

Even if they are currently skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines, the majority of respondents appear open to building trust. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said that seeing more evidence that the vaccines are safe will make them trust the vaccine more. Ten percent of respondents said they will trust the vaccines more if there is additional evidence of effectiveness, and 9% said more transparency about the vaccines’ ingredients will help them feel more confident in the vaccine. An additional seven percent of respondents said they are more likely to trust the vaccine if people they know and trust get it.

More concerning, however, is the fact that nearly one-third of respondents, 31%, said that nothing will improve their trust in COVID-19 vaccines.

One-fourth of Americans don’t plan on getting vaccinated against COVID-19

This mistrust of the vaccine appears to closely correlate with individuals’ willingness to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Twenty-one percent of our survey respondents said they have already received one or both doses of the vaccine, while an additional 45% said they plan on getting vaccinated once they are eligible, indicating that roughly ⅔ of Americans intend on getting vaccinated.

However, 25% of survey respondents said they do not plan on getting vaccinated, while another 9% said they are not sure.

That such a significant portion of the population is reluctant to get vaccinated could put the possibility of the U.S. reaching herd immunity against COVID-19 in jeopardy. Although there is still some uncertainty about the exact figure, experts predict that around 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order for the U.S. to reach herd immunity, and significantly slow the spread of the virus. As the numbers stand now, the U.S. may experience some difficulty in reaching the necessary levels of vaccination for herd immunity.

Suspicion of COVID-19 vaccine highest among Black Americans, young adults

When looked at by demographics, suspicion of the COVID-19 vaccine is occurring at similar rates as suspicion of COVID-19 testing.

Americans ages 18-24 are the least likely to trust the COVID-19 vaccine, with less than half, 46% saying they do, and 37% saying they do not. By comparison, 66% of people 45 and older expressed trust in the vaccine.

Less than half of Black respondents, 44%, said they trust the COVID-19 vaccine, while 34% said they do not. Asian respondents were the most confident, with 73% saying they trust the vaccine, compared to 64% of Whites, and 57% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Individuals with a postgraduate degree were twice as likely as those with a high school degree to say they trust the vaccine, by a rate of 84% to 41.5%. Just over half of respondents with a 2- or 4-year degree, 59%, said they trust the vaccine.

Wealthy Americans more than twice as likely as poorer Americans to have already been vaccinated

According to our survey, inequalities also persist in who is receiving the vaccine, including among people of different income and ethnic groups.

Thirty-six percent of people who make $150,000 or more annually say they have already received one or both doses of vaccine, compared to just 14% of people who make less than $25,000 per year.

Twenty-five percent of people ages 54 and older, who are at higher risk for severe and deadly cases of COVID-19, have received one or both doses of the vaccine. However, 35-44 year-olds were the next most likely group to have received the vaccine, with 24% saying they have gotten one or both doses. By comparison, only 17% of people ages 45-54 have gotten one or both vaccine doses.

Likely as a result of mistrust as well as inequalities in the healthcare system, fewer Blacks and Hispanic/Latinx individuals have gotten the vaccine so far. Twenty-three percent of both Whites and Asians say they received one or both vaccine doses, compared to 20% of Hispanic/Latinx respondents, and 15% of Black respondents.

Methodology

The data from this report comes from two online surveys created and paid for by Testing.com. The first was administered by YouGov on September 28, 2020. The second was administered by Pollfish on February 16, 2021. In total, 1,672 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older were surveyed about their views on COVID-19 testing. The February survey also included questions about the COVID-19 vaccines.

Full Survey Results

September 2020

Have you experienced any COVID-19 related symptoms and / or got tested for it in the past 3 months (i.e., since the end of June 2020)?

  • No, didn’t have symptoms and didn’t get tested: 71%
  • No, didn’t have symptoms, but got tested: 16%
  • Yes, I had symptoms and got tested: 7%
  • Yes, I had symptoms, but didn’t get tested because I didn’t want to: 3%
  • Yes, I had symptoms, but didn’t get tested but wanted to: 3%

Do you trust COVID-19 testing?

  • No: 36%
    Yes: 64%

Which, if any, of the following are reasons why you do not trust COVID-19 testing? Please select all that apply.
COVID-19 isn’t real: 9%

  • Testing is not 100% accurate: 59%
    It’s part of a conspiracy to control the population: 23%
    Result wait times are too long: 16%
    It’s a conspiracy to drive revenue to the pharmaceutical companies: 20%
    Other: 10%

February 2021

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, have you gotten a COVID-19 test?

  • Yes: 58%
    No: 42%

If yes, why did you get a COVID-19 test?

  • I had COVID-19 symptoms: 32%
  • I was exposed to someone who had COVID-19: 21%
  • Required for work/travel: 17%
  • Precautionary measure: 24%
  • Other: 6%

Do you trust COVID-19 testing?

  • Yes: 68%
  • No: 20%
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say: 12%

Which, if any, of the following are reasons why you don’t trust COVID-19 testing?

  • COVID-19 isn’t real: 6%
  • Testing is not 100% accurate: 50%
  • It’s part of a conspiracy to control the population: 22%
  • Result wait times are too long: 7%
  • It’s a conspiracy to drive revenue to the pharmaceutical companies: 8%
  • Other: 7%

Do you trust the COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech)?

  • Yes: 60%
  • No: 27%
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say: 13%

Which, if any, of the following are reasons why you don’t trust the FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines?

  • They are not 100% effective: 12%
  • Lack of research/evidence on long-term effects: 34%
  • Lack of transparency about ingredients: 9%
  • They were developed too quickly: 18%
  • Potential side effects: 16%
  • It’s a conspiracy to drive revenue to the pharmaceutical companies: 6%
  • Other: 5%

Which, if any, of the following would improve your trust in COVID-19 vaccines?

  • More research/evidence that they are safe: 37%
  • Improved effectiveness: 10%
  • More transparency about ingredients: 9%
  • If people I know and trust get the vaccine: 7%
  • Nothing will improve my trust in COVID-19 vaccines: 31%
  • Other: 6%

If or when you are eligible, do you plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine?

  • Yes, I have already received one or both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine: 21%
  • Yes, I plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine: 45%
  • No, I do not plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine: 25%
  • Not sure/I’d rather not say: 9%