Hesitancy to take a COVID-19 vaccine varies greatly in Texas, and Dallas County residents are more likely than others to decline shots, according to survey data from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.
As Dallas County struggles to provide enough doses of vaccine for its residents, it has to overcome an additional barrier in the pursuit of herd immunity and a return to normalcy — the fact that nearly 1 in 3 residents don’t want to be vaccinated.
The survey results, which MIT Technology Review calls “extremely worrying,” come from Carnegie Mellon’s COVIDcast. The surveys are conducted by the university’s Delphi Group, which works in collaboration with Facebook and other universities. Delphi Group is regarded as one of the nation’s best flu-forecasting teams.
The level of detail in the data collected by the Delphi team, made up of 72 students, faculty members and volunteers around the world, has never before been available during a public health emergency, according to the group.
During the ongoing pandemic, Delphi Group has regularly put questions to Facebook users, including on mask use and social distancing. The question it posed about vaccine acceptance was: “If a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 were offered to you today, would you definitely or probably choose to get vaccinated?”
The survey participants are a sample of Facebook users rather than the overall U.S. population, allowing researchers to reach more people than through telephone or mail surveys, according to the organization. Delphi Group’s survey data is then given a statistical weight based on how representative of the U.S. population the surveyed people are, using data available to Facebook.
Some of the country’s highest rates of vaccine acceptance can be seen in Northeastern states such as New York and New Hampshire. In Texas, the survey results show the highest levels of acceptance are in counties with the largest populations.
Residents of Travis County, home to the state capital, Austin, and the main campus of the University of Texas, were the most accepting of a vaccine, with 85% saying they would definitely or probably get the vaccine if it is offered.
It’s the only Texas county that currently reaches the threshold scientists say the public needs to achieve herd immunity, according to the Delphi Group data.
Scientists originally estimated the U.S. would need 60% to 70% of its population inoculated to gain immunity to COVID-19 before society could largely return to normal. Top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has since ratcheted that up to 80% or more, arguing that as more Americans become comfortable with the vaccine, he’s felt ready to convey the tough reality of immunity necessary for a return to normalcy.
In Dallas County, 74% of residents surveyed said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated. That compares with about 78% of residents in Collin and Denton counties and 73% in Tarrant County.
Dallas County’s 74% rate as of Jan. 19 is up slightly from 72% on Jan. 1, when the COVIDcast project began asking about vaccine acceptance.
In some rural counties where the Delphi Group was able to survey Texans, vaccine acceptance ranged from 59% to 65%. Gregg County, in East Texas, and Orange County, northeast of Houston at the Louisiana border, recorded the lowest acceptance rates in the state at 53%, according to data gathered from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14.
COVID-19 vaccines began arriving in North Texas in mid-December and brought hope to health care workers who were first in line, but mixed levels of optimism among experts who study public health.
Academics are concerned that Black, Latino and other underserved communities are historically less trusting of the medical community and will need to be educated about the safety of vaccines available for COVID-19, another hurdle for state and local officials in ending the pandemic.
In an effort to inform the public about vaccine safety, Dallas Bishop T.D. Jakes will host a live virtual event with coronavirus experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, at noon Monday on Jakes’ YouTube channel.
“Distrust is understandably high among African Americans, who have faced decades of unethical medical experiments and disparate treatment in health care,” Jakes said in a statement. “This Conversations with America event will provide the public with knowledge and education, but also with hope.”
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