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FDA vaccine approval changing Americans’ views of vaccines and mandates

In the wake of the US Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, more Americans say they are now confident in COVID-19 vaccines and supportive of vaccine mandates.

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Like the vaccines offered by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the Pfizer vaccine had been available for distribution under an FDA Emergency Use Authorization until it gained full approval on August 23rd. 

In the 48 hours immediately following the FDA announcement, DISQO surveyed 3,055 American adults about their vaccination status, their confidence in the vaccine, and their support for vaccine mandates. We learned some surprising things. 

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, 73% of those eligible have received at least one vaccine dose and only 53% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.  A committed minority of Americans continue to resist the jab, which is in line with what DISQO data reported earlier this year that found that four in ten Americans surveyed said they were unwilling or uncertain about getting vaccinated. 

One stated reason for vaccine hesitancy was that the FDA had not fully approved the vaccines. With full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine, the attitude of some vaccine-reluctant Americans has changed, but others remain unmoved. 

We found strong support for vaccine mandates in a number of settings, which should also contribute to increased vaccination rates as mandates are implemented.

The vast majority of Americans saw the news

Coverage of the approval was widespread, and 95% of respondents said they saw the news that the FDA had approved the Pfizer vaccine. This reflects the high level of press coverage and public interest in vaccines, regardless of opinion on their use.

FDA approval increased public confidence in the vaccine

The announcement increased public confidence: 43% of respondents said they were more confident in the Pfizer vaccine after FDA approval, however the impact on the unvaccinated was smaller. Only 16.3% of unvaccinated respondents said that they were more confident in the vaccine as a result of FDA approval.

Parents in particular were more confident as a result of FDA approval. 49% of parents of children were more confident, compared to 40% of non-parents who increased their confidence due to the FDA’s vaccine approval.

A small minority said the announcement made them less confident in the vaccine, citing “I don’t trust the FDA,” (70%) and “I think it was approved too quickly,” (60%) as their top reasons. About a quarter of the unvaccinated who said they felt less confident after FDA approval said they “don’t believe in vaccines in general.”

FDA approval will move the needle

Despite the ongoing resistance among most of the unvaccinated, a small number of them were influenced by FDA approval. 15.6% of the unvaccinated said they planned to get vaccinated in the future and 39% of those said that FDA approval influenced their decision. Stated differently, 6% of the unvaccinated reported that the full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine moved them off the fence. 

There is majority support for vaccine mandates following FDA approval

Now that the FDA had approved the Pfizer vaccine, a majority of respondents said that they support vaccine mandates for a broad range of professions and activities.

Support for vaccine mandates increases with education. Only 46% of high school graduates support mandates, but 63% of those with Bachelor’s and 71% of those with Master’s degrees support mandates.

Support for vaccine mandates also increases with income, which may be related to education level. Only 52% of those with household incomes under $30,000 per year support mandates, but 74% of those with household incomes over $150,000 support mandates.

Asian Americans were the most likely to support mandates, white Americans the least likely. However, even for white Americans, the majority (58%) support mandates.

FDA approval unlocks new avenues to increase vaccination

While the data shows that full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine will have a small direct impact on the unvaccinated who change their mind, this regulatory decision will change the environment in which the unvaccinated live.

Our data demonstrates that full approval boosts support for vaccine mandates. As vaccine requirements at work and in public become increasingly common in many locales, the unvaccinated who live there will find new incentives to take the jab. 

Furthermore, with full FDA approval comes the ability of Pfizer to actively advertise and market their vaccine, now branded Comirnaty, to the public. Adding new messaging and media to the mix may persuade people that the public health authorities haven’t been able to influence.

Vaccine adoption and resistance has become a central storyline of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. As full approval is granted to additional vaccines, vaccine eligibility is expanded to children under 12, more mandates are adopted, and Delta and other variants propagate, a key question will be whether changing conditions and social expectations are enough to dramatically reduce vaccine resistance.

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