Poll, falling vaccination rates spark concern that Covid-19 conflicts make Kentuckians skeptical of long-accepted vaccines

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The first day of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky‘s annual health policy forum addressed vaccine hesitancy, which the foundation’s latest poll and other information show may be spreading to affect public attitudes toward all vaccines, not just those developed to fight the coronavirus.
The day also included a dire warning from the state’s top doctor that it’s time for vaccines to be seen like other public safety measures that lower the risk for serious harm — like requiring the use of seat belts — because he hasn’t seen hospitals under so much distress in his 25 years in health care.
“I’ve never seen all of health care across whole states on the brink of collapse in the hospitals. And yet, that’s where we are right now,” Health Commissioner Steven Stack said, after being asked how the unvaccinated should be persuaded that they have an obligation to society to become immunized.
“As far as societal obligation, I really think that these vaccines for Covid have now reached the point where it’s essential,” Stack said. “Everybody should get these vaccines, because the consequences being worn by all of society are so adverse, that it no longer becomes reasonable for society to accept those consequences.”
Stack said 90% of new coronavirus cases in Kentucky are among the unvaccinated, as are 91% of Covid-19 hospital patients and 85% of those who have died from it recently, “so here we have yet another example of the incredible power of vaccination and immunization to prevent horrible, horrible adverse harm.”
While 59% of the state’s total population and 72% of those 18 and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Stack cautioned that there are still counties that have vaccinated less than 34% of their populations with one dose, which puts them “in incredible danger from Covid.”
Further, he said the Delta variant is so contagious that for herd immunity to protect the unvaccinated, “We probably now have to have a vaccination rate over 90%,” not the previously assumed 75 to 80%.
That is a tall order, since a fifth of Kentuckians in the foundation’s poll said they would probably not or definitely not get vaccinated. That was an improvement from 29% in the previous poll, taken in late winter, but Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, voiced concern that unfounded controversies about the Covid-19 vaccines are undermining confidence in other vaccines.
In the most recent poll, taken Aug. 4-Sept. 4, seven in 10 Kentucky adults agreed that all recommended, routine vaccines are beneficial; four out of five agreed that being vaccinated is important to the health of a community; and 90% said they believe vaccination is a good way to protect themselves from disease.
But when asked if all routine vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are beneficial, 27% said they disagreed. And only three in five said all children should be required to be vaccinated, and three out of seven said parents should be able to block vaccination of their children.
Stack pointed out that rates of vaccination for many childhood diseases declined 20% last year, mainly when the state and nation were in the initial pandemic lockdown, and have not recovered to previous levels.
Chandler said, “We believe the issue of declining public confidence in vaccines is a burgeoning crisis,” and noted that theĀ World Health OrganizationĀ calls vaccine hesitancy one of the top 10 threats to global health.
“Any decline in these numbers is cause for concern,” he said. “Decisions made by parents today and actions taken by our legislators today will lead to results that we may not see for years. We cannot take our vaccine policies for granted. History has shown us lapses in protection can cause future pandemics, impacting people’s health, our economy, and the future of our civilization.”
Most recently, Kentucky passed a law during the 2020 legislative session that added a “conscientiously held belief” exemption for any child or adult in Kentucky who doesn’t want to receive a vaccine that the state mandates during an epidemic or a pandemic.
The poll also took a look at hesitancy about the influenza vaccine, finding that almost two-thirds of Kentucky adults said they are very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine by the end of the year; 28.4% said they were very unlikely to get the flu vaccine and 5.9% said they were somewhat unlikely to get it.
The most recent poll, conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, included more than 500 adults who were contacted by both landline and cell phones. Its margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.