Most Americans worry political pressure will force FDA to rush approval for Covid-19 vaccine, reveals poll

If a vaccine is approved before the presidential election and made freely available, 54% say they would not want to get vaccinated, while 42% say they would want to get vaccinated under those circumstances


                            Most Americans worry political pressure will force FDA to rush approval for Covid-19 vaccine, reveals poll
(Getty Images)

A majority of Americans or 62% are worried that political pressure from the Trump administration will lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rush to approve a coronavirus vaccine without making sure that it is safe and effective. This includes majorities of Democrats (85%) and independents (61%), as well as a third of Republicans (35%), according to results of a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).

A third of adults (33%) say they are “very worried” the FDA will rush to approve a vaccine while a further 29% say they are “somewhat worried.” Notably, women are more likely than men to say they are worried the FDA will rush to approve a vaccine (70% versus. 55%). Besides, about four in 10 adults say both the FDA (39%) and the CDC (42%) are paying “too much attention” to politics when it comes to reviewing and approving treatments for coronavirus or issuing guidelines and recommendations.

The report comes as President Donald Trump and others working in his administration and for his reelection campaign have suggested a vaccine may be ready in the coming months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently asked states to be ready to distribute a vaccine by November 1, just two days before the presidential election in the US. The poll, however, reveals that 81% of Americans – including majorities of Democrats (90%), independents (84%), and Republicans (60%) – say they do not think a vaccine will be widely available before the presidential election. 

If a vaccine was approved before election day and made freely available to anyone who wanted it, about half (54%) say they would not want to get vaccinated, while four in 10 (42%) say they would want to get vaccinated under those circumstances. Most independents (56%) and Republicans (60%) say they would not get the vaccine, while half of Democrats (50%) say they would. “Public skepticism about the FDA and the process of approving a vaccine is eroding public confidence even before a vaccine gets to the starting gate,” writes Drew Altman, KFF President, and CEO, in the report.

Half of Democrats (50%) say they would get vaccinated if a vaccine were available before the election, while majorities of independents (56%) and Republicans (60%) say they would not get the vaccine. (Getty Images)

Designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at KFF, the poll was conducted from August 28 to September 3 among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,199 adults. Researchers found that more than six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, the public is divided on whether the worst is behind them or yet to come. About four in 10 (38% each) say “the worst is behind us” (down nearly half from 74% in early April) or “the worst is yet to come” (up from 13% in April). The share of adults who think the worst is yet to come has decreased by 22 percentage points since July, says the team. “Across partisans, a majority of Republicans (56%) say the worst of the coronavirus outbreak is behind us (up from 31% in July). While a majority of Democrats (58%) say the worst is yet to come, the share who expect the worst still lays ahead has decreased by 21 percentage points since July,” write authors.

People divided over who they can trust for Covid-19 information

The study also captures a drop in the public’s trust of the nation’s public health institutions and officials to provide reliable information about coronavirus, particularly among Republicans.

About two in three adults say they have at least a fair amount of trust in Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (68%), and in the CDC (67%) to provide reliable coronavirus information. About half (53%) say they trust Dr Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator for the White House Covid-19 task force (53%) as a reliable source of information. Half of the public say they trust Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (52%) to provide reliable information on coronavirus while about four in ten say the same about President Trump (40%).

While majorities across partisans continue to trust the CDC, there are large partisan differences on trust in other sources, with Democrats more likely to trust Biden and Dr Fauci, and Republicans more likely to trust Trump and Dr Birx. The share who say they trust Dr Fauci has declined by 10 percentage points since April overall, driven by a 29 percentage points drop off among Republicans, as Trump publicly disagreed with some of his public health advice. “There has been a steep decline in trust of Dr Fauci among Republicans. While the share of Democrats who say they trust Dr Fauci has increased slightly since April (86%, up from 80%), among Republicans, the share who trust Dr Fauci has decreased by 29 percentage points (48%, down from 77%). In contrast, Dr Birx retains a high level of trust among Republicans (70%), but lower levels of trust among Democrats (44%),” the findings state.

The share who say they trust Dr Anthony Fauci has declined by 10 percentage points since April overall, driven by a 29 percentage points drop off among Republicans, as President Donald Trump publicly disagreed with some of his public health advice. (Getty Images)

Notably, the share of adults who trust the CDC to provide reliable information has decreased by 16 percentage points since April, with the biggest dip occurring among Republicans (60% now, down from 90% in April). Trust in the CDC has decreased from April across partisans, though the decrease has been among Republicans in particularly steep, with 60% now saying they trust the CDC, down 30 percentage points from April when 90% said they trusted the CDC to provide reliable information. Similarly, the share of adults who say they trust Dr Fauci has declined by 10 percentage points since April. 

Some misconceptions remain

A large majority of the public (87%) is aware that there is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent coronavirus and that it is possible for children under 18 to transmit coronavirus to other people (88%). Similarly, eight in 10 (80%) know that there is no cure for coronavirus and that wearing a face mask helps to limit the spread of coronavirus (81%). Three in four adults (77%) know that wearing a face mask is not harmful to your health, though notably, one in five adults say wearing a face mask is harmful. 

Nearly half of adults (48%) hold at least one misconception about coronavirus prevention and treatment: 20% who incorrectly say wearing a face mask poses a health risk, and 16% incorrectly say masks do not help reduce coronavirus’ spread. While majorities across partisans say wearing a facemask is not harmful to your health, Republicans (36%) are more likely than Democrats (7%) and independents (17%) to say wearing a face mask is harmful. Similarly, while majorities across partisans say wearing a face mask helps to limit the spread of coronavirus, Republicans (32%) are more likely than Democrats (3%) and independents (17%) to say masks do not help to limit the spread. “Politicizing basic facts like whether a mask can prevent coronavirus’ spread creates an environment where misinformation is easily shared and believed,” explains Mollyann Brodie, executive director of KFF’s public opinion and survey research.

While 55% of adults say hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for Covid-19, one in four (24%) say it is an effective treatment. “Perhaps reflecting the difference among partisans in who they trust for reliable information, the largest partisan gap is on hydroxychloroquine, which President Trump has touted as a treatment for coronavirus. Most Democrats (78%) and independents (57%) say it is not an effective treatment for Covid-19. However, half of Republicans (51%) say it is an effective treatment,” shows analysis.

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