Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Will your neighbors be vaccinated?

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As coronavirus vaccines rolled out in the United States, the process has been confusing and disastrous. States, left by the federal government to fend for themselves, have struggled to master the logistics of distribution. Many, including Georgia, Virginia and California, have sadly late.

But even if there was a perfect supply chain, there is another obstacle: not all Americans want to the vaccine.

Survey data collected via Facebook by Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Lab, one of the country’s top influenza forecasting teams, has shown that more than a quarter of the country’s population would not be vaccinated if it were available to them today. What people think of immunizations varies widely across states and counties. The percentage of respondents who would accept a vaccine drops as low as 48% in the parish of Terrebonne, Louisiana, and peaks at 92% in Arlington County, Virginia.

The results are extremely worrying. The fewer people vaccinated, the more the virus will continue to ravage the country and prevent us from returning to normal. “It’s one of those things that probably shouldn’t have surprised me,” says Alex Reinhart, assistant professor of statistics and data science, who was part of the research. “But when you look at the map, it’s still surprising to see.”

The good news – and there is good news – is that this data could also help fight public reluctance. The Delphi Lab was help the CDC to track and understand the spread of covid infections since the start of the pandemic. The latest survey will help the agency identify where to conduct more targeted education campaigns. The research group is also working with several county-level health departments to inform local awareness.

The Delphi researchers collected the data through a large-scale survey they have been operating through Facebook since April 2019. It works with social media giant to reach as large a sample of the US population as possible, and asks daily questions of a statistically representative sample of Facebook users. On average, 56,000 people participate daily and the company itself never sees the results.

During the pandemic, the investigation included a variety of questions to understand people’s covid-related behaviors, including mask adherence, social distancing and their mental health. Some of the results are fed into the lab’s coronavirus prediction model, while others are summarized and passed directly to public health officials and other academic researchers. The questions are regularly updated and the vaccine acceptance question was added in early January – after the first vaccines were cleared by the US government.

The map shows the average polls for each county from January 1 to 14. For counties with too few daily respondents – less than 100 – Delphi researchers pooled data from neighboring counties. This is reflected in our map above, which is why various county groups appear with the same percentage. The researchers also independently verified their findings with some of the CDC and Pew Research’s own surveys.

Next, the researchers plan to broaden their investigation to understand why people are reluctant about the vaccine. They are also exploring questions that could help identify what is preventing people from accessing vaccines, especially for populations at risk.

This story is part of the Pandemic technology project, supported by the Rockefeller Foundation.


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