Twenty percent of Bostonians in a newly released survey say they are unlikely to get a coronavirus vaccine — and nearly half of Black participants said they would not receive one — highlighting the challenges for health officials seeking to curb the pandemic.
The findings, released Tuesday by University of Massachusetts Boston researchers, are similar to the results of some national surveys on vaccine compliance.
The local research, which involved surveying more than 900 people on their attitudes about COVID-19 vaccines, shows a deep demographic divide. More than 90 percent of respondents who were white, Asian, or Pacific Islander said they would probably or definitely get vaccinated. But fewer than 75 percent of Latino respondents said they would get a vaccine, and just over half of Black respondents said they intend to be vaccinated.
Lee Hargraves, interim director of UMass Boston’s Center for Survey Research and a lead author of the report, said that if the trends hold, neighborhoods with large populations of the demographic groups that are more hesitant to take the vaccine could struggle to recover from the crisis.
“We need to get a majority of people to accept the vaccine, and if two of three of your neighbors are hesitant, you should probably stay in your house,” Hargraves said.
Previous research had shown that Black and Latino Massachusetts residents were more hesitant because of longstanding distrust of the government on health care issues. The pandemic, meanwhile, has hit communities of color particularly hard.
The survey found that Black and Latino residents were also more likely to be extremely worried about contracting COVID-19.
“It may be that some respondents’ worries are about more than the infection and they may be worried about vaccines as well,” the report said.
The research is part of a collaboration among UMass Boston, Northeastern University, and the Boston Public Health Commission, which together have been surveying residents about the effects of the pandemic for months.
This latest survey was conducted from early September through late November — before the first two vaccines for the coronavirus received emergency authorization from federal regulators.
Russell Schutt, a UMass Boston sociology professor who was also a lead author of the report, said research elsewhere has shown that the beginning of the vaccine rollout has shifted public opinion slightly in favor of vaccination — but not by enough to minimize the challenges facing those who are trying to increase acceptance.
The research also found that people with more formal education are more enthusiastic about the vaccine, and that more men than women say they plan to be vaccinated.
A key to success, Schutt said, will be on-the-ground public health efforts involving local leaders talking to their neighbors about the importance of vaccination, and listening to their concerns.
“What Boston knows, and Massachusetts as a state knows from prior programming experience, is that the way to overcome those disparities is really by engaging with people who are trusted at the local level,” Schutt said.