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Racial Disparities in Concerns about Getting COVID—and a Vaccine

Dean Bonner February 9, 2021
photo - COVID-19 Vaccination

It’s been over a year since California’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. Since then, more than 40,000 Californians have died of the disease. People of color—who are more likely to work in essential jobs and to have underlying health conditions—have been disproportionately affected. PPIC’s most recent survey shows Latinos and African Americans are more likely to be very concerned about the coronavirus, and African Americans are especially hesitant about getting vaccinated.

As California’s daily case numbers begin to decline, no one knows what the future holds. Increasingly, Californians are more likely to think the worst of the pandemic is behind us. In our January survey, nearly six in ten Californians hold this view. However, African Americans (49%) and Latinos (53%) are less optimistic than whites (61%) and Asian Americans (64%). Indeed, African Americans were the least optimistic across regions and demographic groups in January, last September (50%), and last May (69%).

Amid uncertainty, fears about the pandemic remain widespread. About six in ten Californians express concern (25% very concerned, 35% somewhat concerned) about getting the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization—similar to our May survey (24% very, 34% somewhat). Latinos (35%) and African Americans (32%) are more likely than Asian Americans (21%) and whites (17%) to say they are very concerned.

figure - Latinos and African Americans Are Most Likely To Be Very Concerned About Getting the Coronavirus

The good news is that since October, the share of Californians saying they will get the vaccine has increased. Forty-three percent of Californians say they will definitely get the vaccine (up from 26% in October), and 25% say they will probably get the vaccine. One in four will either probably not (11%) or definitely not (13%) get the vaccine.

Encouragingly, Californians from all racial/ethnic groups say they are more likely to get the vaccine now. These numbers are up more than 20 percentage points for African Americans and Latinos, and about 30 percentage points for Asian Americans and whites, compared to last October.

However, there are large disparities, with African Americans the least likely (26%) to say they will definitely get the vaccine. Meanwhile, 38% of Latinos, 47% of Asian Americans, and 51% of whites say they will definitely get the vaccine. In addition, a majority of African Americans say they will probably not (20%) or definitely not (35%) get the vaccine. Acknowledging the complex reasons for vaccine hesitancy among African Americans—and working to overcome this hesitancy—will be essential for ensuring that all communities are protected against the virus.

figure - Willingness To Get COVID-19 Vaccine Varies across Racial/Ethnic Groups

Overcoming the pandemic will depend on the availability of vaccines and people’s willingness to get vaccinated. In our January survey, a majority of adults rated California’s vaccination distribution negatively, and there are clear racial/ethnic disparities in Californians’ perceptions of the vaccine. In the next few months it will be critical for the state to improve on both fronts. PPIC will continue to track Californians’ opinions on these issues as the state battles with the pandemic.

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