Despite Full Approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 Shot, 3 in 5 Vaccine Holdouts Say They’re Unlikely to Get Vaccinated

Findings come despite 50% of unvaccinated adults saying lack of FDA approval influenced their decision not to get a shot
President Joe Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccines on Aug. 23, 2021, following the Food and Drug Administration’s announcement of full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. A Morning Consult survey found that 61 percent of unvaccinated U.S. adults said that in light of the news, they're still unlikely to receive the shot in the next month. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
August 30, 2021 at 5:10 pm UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 29% of unvaccinated U.S. adults say they’re likely to get inoculated in the next month given FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer shot.

  • 84% of vaccinated adults say they’d be comfortable getting a booster shot of an FDA-approved vaccine this fall.

  • 7 in 10 unvaccinated adults cite concern over side effects as a reason that influenced their decision to not get the shot.

When Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE became the first vaccine manufacturers to gain full regulatory approval for their COVID-19 shot last week, President Joe Biden hailed it as “the moment you’ve been waiting for” for the millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated.

But new Morning Consult polling shows full approval from the Food and Drug Administration won't actually move the needle for most vaccine holdouts -- despite the lack of approval being one of the top reasons many unvaccinated adults said they hadn’t yet been inoculated.

After being told about the full approval for Pfizer’s vaccine in the survey, conducted Aug. 24-29, 61 percent of unvaccinated U.S. adults said they're still unlikely to receive a COVID-19 shot in the next month.

The approval was months in the making. FDA regulators had been working overtime to grant it, even though it’s essentially a formality given that nearly 210 million doses of Pfizer’s shot had been administered in the United States as of Monday. As the vaccination slog continues, though, many health officials had pinned their hopes on full regulatory approval to sway vaccine holdouts.

Seemingly, it was a fair bet. In the survey, 50 percent of unvaccinated adults said the lack of full approval either strongly or somewhat influenced them in their decision not to get a shot.

But other reasons were even more paramount, perhaps explaining why only 29 percent of unvaccinated adults said they are likely to get a COVID-19 shot within the next month in light of Pfizer’s FDA approval.

For example, 70 percent of unvaccinated adults said they are concerned about the shot’s side effects; 61 percent said vaccination mandates are an infringement on their personal freedoms; and 60 percent said the vaccines have not been proven to be safe.

The findings suggest Biden’s message that full approval confirms the safety and efficacy of the vaccine isn’t resonating with most holdouts, either. Just 21 percent of unvaccinated adults said they think the shots are effective against the delta variant, while 71 percent said the vaccine approval process was too rushed to be safe.

Approvals for COVID-19 shots from other vaccine manufacturers could come in the next few months, with Moderna Inc. completing its application last week and Johnson & Johnson planning to submit data soon. Both companies are currently offering their shots under emergency use authorizations.

When it comes to individual choice, full regulatory approval for the vaccines may be more meaningful in the upcoming campaign to promote booster COVID-19 shots: 84 percent of vaccinated adults said they’d be comfortable getting an extra dose of an FDA-approved shot.

The FDA approval of Pfizer’s shot also triggered a wave of vaccination requirements from schools and businesses, though the survey indicates they may face some resistance: Just 26 percent of unvaccinated adults say businesses, events, schools and local governments should be able to mandate vaccination, compared with 77 percent of their vaccinated peers.

Even so, unvaccinated adults don’t expect to feel pressure from their employers anytime soon, with 27 percent saying they expect their jobs to mandate vaccination, compared with 57 percent of vaccinated adults.

The poll was conducted among 2,200 U.S. adults and has a margin of error of 2 percentage points. The sample of 754 unvaccinated adults has a 4-point margin of error.

A headshot photograph of Gaby Galvin
Gaby Galvin

Gaby Galvin previously worked at Morning Consult as a reporter covering health.

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