A vaccine is prepared at the Sharp Grossmont Center Covid-19 supersite. Photo by Chris Stone

A new study shows that U.S. adults with higher education are significantly more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccination and to believe in the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

The Understanding Coronavirus in America Study reveals that when it comes to attitudes and beliefs about the vaccine, there is a substantial gap between U.S. residents with more and less education.

Researchers with the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research found that 76% of U.S. adults with at least a bachelor’s degree have already been vaccinated or plan to be.

That’s compared to just 53% of those without a college degree.

Earlier in the pandemic, educational level played less of a role than race and ethnicity in people’s willingness to get vaccinated, the study found.

“Results of our surveys earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic – before vaccines were approved – indicated that race and ethnicity would play a greater role than education level in people’s willingness to get the vaccine,” said Jill Darling, survey director for the study. “But one year into this pandemic, with vaccines now being rolled out across the U.S., education level has become a greater factor than race.”

Other issues include knowing someone who has been vaccinated, perceptions of the vaccine’s effectiveness and the perceived risk of serious side effects.

“What we find driving the educational differences, along with racial and ethnic differences, in vaccine hesitancy is lack of trust in the vaccine development and approval process,” said Kyla Thomas, a USC sociologist. “Our findings indicate that, in addition to tailoring vaccine awareness campaigns to high-risk groups, policymakers should emphasize the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines particularly to those without college degrees.

“Trust is the big story here: Policymakers need to build trust among less-educated Americans,” she concluded.

For now, a limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine is the greatest factor hampering vaccine usage. Among U.S. adults, almost six in 10 say they plan to get vaccinated.

As supply increases, and once access inequities are addressed, the issue of overcoming resistance likely will move to the forefront of the policy agenda both nationally and in the states, according to the study.

Designing effective strategies to encourage people to get vaccinated will be key to increasing persuading those who are reluctant, along with the argument that the community is better protected against the coronavirus via widespread vaccination.

“Moving forward, we have to work closely with information and communication channels people trust, like celebrities and leaders from the community and faith-based organizations,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, of USC’s Keck School of Medicine and COVID-19 Pandemic Research Center.

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