53% of Military Families Don't Want COVID-19 Vaccine, Survey Shows

Hospital Corpsman gives a COVID-19 vaccine to a sailor.
Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Jordan Knoppert, attached to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 11, gives a COVID-19 vaccine to a sailor at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif., Feb. 3, 2021. (U.S. Navy/Lt. John J. Mike)

In a straw poll of 810 active-duty military personnel, spouses and veterans, more than half of active-duty families, or 53%, said they did not plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, citing safety concerns and suspicions over development. Nearly half of veteran families agreed.

The survey was conducted by researchers with the military advocacy group Blue Star Families Dec. 10 to 14. In it, 40% of 57 active-duty service respondents said they would get the vaccine, while 49% said they would not. Another 11% said they were undecided.

Among 613 spouses of active-duty personnel, 32% said they planned to get the vaccine, 54% said they would not and 14% were undecided.

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Veteran families were slightly more inclined to get the vaccine, with 41% saying they would get it, 46% saying they would not and 13% undecided.

Seven in 10 respondents said they didn't want to get the vaccine because they didn't trust the development process or had concerns about safety, according to the results, released Thursday.

"I am looking for long term placebo controlled studies. I do not want my family, or service members to be guinea pigs," one military spouse wrote in the survey's comments section.

The survey was conducted the week after the Pew Research Center announced the results of a national poll that found 60% of Americans would definitely or probably get a coronavirus vaccine, and the same week the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

Jennifer Akin, a Blue Star Families researcher, said she started noticing social media posts by military family members about vaccine hesitancy and decided to conduct the survey after Pew released its results.

While the Blue Star Family survey is not a scientific poll, its results provide a baseline for observing acceptance or reluctance over time, Akin said.

"This is a divisive topic ... but at the end of the day, if we as military families can recognize that this is a readiness issue, it can be very helpful," she said.

According to the survey, 28% of respondents didn't perceive the COVID-19 coronavirus as a threat.

"There's work to be done to counteract that narrative," Akin said.

Since the survey was conducted, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for another COVID-19 vaccine, made by Moderna. Both are based on messenger RNA technology, which uses bits of genetic code to instruct a person's cells to make antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

To date, more than 32 million doses have been administered in the U.S., according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Speaking at a virtual presentation Thursday hosted by the American Red Cross and Blue Star Families, Fauci said the research and safety data on both vaccines was reviewed by scientists and medical experts "not beholden to the federal government or companies but to the American public," and the decision to administer it was made by scientists with an independent advisory board.

"That's the reason why many of you hear me, every day in the media, saying when your turn comes up, please get vaccinated, for your own safety, for that of your family and that for the American community in general," Fauci said.

For the most part, military family members have not had to make the decision whether to get the vaccine because they don't have access to any. The Department of Defense has administered 508,965 vaccinations, but mostly to active-duty military personnel and essential employees, as well as some Tricare beneficiaries over age 75.

Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, said the DoD hopes to expand eligibility to those 65 and older "soon," but added that anyone who has access to a vaccine elsewhere should take it.

"If it's available in the community and easier for you to get it there, then get it at your first opportunity," he said. "Please let us know if you get the vaccine somewhere else so we can update your records."

Among the big concerns voiced in the Blue Star Families survey and during the virtual presentation Thursday were vaccinations for children and pregnant women.

Roughly 18% of active-duty family respondents and 26% of veteran families said they would seek the vaccine for their children.

Neither of the available vaccines is approved for young children. The Moderna shot is approved for those 16 years and older, while the Pfizer vaccine is approved for people at least 18 years of age.

Fauci said children and pregnant women were not included in the vaccine clinical trials because they are considered vulnerable populations. But studies have begun on adolescents.

"You wait until you get pretty confident that you are dealing with a safe and effective vaccine. And then you can start trials in children, which we have already done ... a de-escalation study, starting off with older children and working your way down," Fauci said.

Tests on pregnant women have just begun, he added. Of the 32 million vaccinations given so far, 10 pregnant women -- mainly health care workers -- have received shots and no "red flags," including unexpected medical reactions, have been observed, Fauci said.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 226,000 people affiliated with the DoD have tested positive for COVID-19, including 143,272 military personnel and 23,034 dependents. Another 45,106 civilian employees and 14,341 military contractors also have had the virus.

More than 250 have died, including 19 service members and nine family members.

Across the U.S., more than 26 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and nearly 455,000 have died. The number of new cases has dropped by 30% in the last 14 days, and President Joe Biden has launched an ambitious effort to deliver 150 million vaccinations in his first 100 days of office.

During the Blue Star Family forum, first lady Jill Biden urged viewers to continue practicing social distancing, wear masks and "get the vaccine when it's your turn."

"We can beat this together," she said.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime

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