North Bay lies at center of opposition to coronavirus vaccinations in Bay Area
Nearly one in four adults in the North Bay are reluctant to receive a coronavirus vaccination, a significant obstacle that could slow efforts to achieve herd immunity in the region, a new poll suggested Wednesday.
Opposition to the vaccine is higher in the North Bay than in any other part of the nine-county Bay Area, according to the Bay Area Council survey. About 23% of respondents in the North Bay counties of Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano described themselves as “vaccine hesitant” — that is, they are not yet vaccinated and probably or definitely will not be getting the shots.
“I care about that 23%,” said Dr. Chad Krilich, chief medical officer for Providence St. Joseph in Sonoma County. “When I know I have a treatment that can eradicate the sixth-leading cause of death in Sonoma County in 2020, I want to make sure my patients get that treatment.”
Krilich acknowledged there can be side effects of the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, such as mild fever and muscle aches. “But we know it’s 100% effective in preventing hospitalizations, and 100% effective in reducing mortality,” he said.
The survey of 1,000 registered voters in nine Bay Area counties, including approximately 70 in Sonoma County, reveals noticeable cultural and geographic differences in hesitancy rates.
For example, 31% of Republicans say they are hesitant to get vaccinated, compared to just 7% of Democrats. A mere 4% of Asian American respondents said they are reluctant, compared to 18% of Latinos. And while 7% of those with a graduate degree expressed reluctance, 22% of people with less than a four-year degree are disinclined to get a shot.
The political divide jumped out to John Grubb, COO of the Bay Area Council, a business advocacy group based in San Francisco.
“A lot of the efforts, including the Bay Area Council’s efforts, have been targeted toward people of color and historically marginalized communities,” he said. “And a lot of resources have been targeted to them. There has not been a lot of effort targeted at Republicans. This is something we’re going to need to think about.”
Residents in other parts of the Bay Area are considerably more willing to accept a coronavirus vaccination. While 23% of North Bay residents are reluctant to be vaccinated, the poll found lower levels of opposition in other counties, including Contra Costa (16%), San Mateo (15%), Santa Clara (13%), Alameda (12%) and San Francisco (7%) counties. The poll did not break out individual figures for Sonoma, Napa, Marin and Solano counties.
The relatively high level of resistance here does not surprise Dr. Urmila Shende, Sonoma County’s vaccine manager.
“We definitely have one of the higher rates of vaccine hesitancy overall, which I know about as a pediatrician,” she said.
But Shende found the survey encouraging when she compared the numbers with similar polls conducted earlier in the vaccine rollout.
“When this whole thing began in January, hesitancy was higher than that,” she said. “It seemed to be about two-thirds saying yes and up to a third saying no. So I’m heartened to see this particular survey maybe in the 20% range. What we’ve seen is that as people start to get the vaccine and see others around them get it, that hesitancy seems to improve.”
About 44% of the North Bay respondents said they have already been vaccinated, a figure that corresponds closely to county data showing that approximately 46% of Sonoma County’s adult population has received at least one dose.
Getting to a large portion of the currently unvaccinated may be the key to ending this pandemic, which has dragged on for more than a year, killed more than 500,000 Americans and disrupted virtually every facet of modern life. In Sonoma County, the coronavirus has infected more than 29,000 people and killed 308 since it was first detected locally in March 2020.
Herd immunity is achieved when about 75% to 80% of a population is immunized, Grubb said, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. That puts the North Bay’s 77% rate of acceptance squarely on the threshold. Shende believes 77% could be enough, but cautions that the coronavirus’ genetic mutations could change the calculus and require something closer to 85% of the population to receive the vaccine or gain immunity by surviving a previous infection of COVID-19.
Among those who admitted resistance to getting vaccinated, the most common reasons supplied were simply not being worried about the virus (19%), a belief they were healthy enough to survive it (14%), concerns about the vaccines’ side effects (12%), a general mistrust of vaccines (12%) and uncertainty about these particular vaccines because they are so new (10%).
Respondents were asked to select just one reason each.
The poll also asked participants to gauge their levels of trust in various sources of information about vaccinations. The most trusted source, it turned out, was one’s primary doctor or health care provider, with 85% saying they trust their physician “a great deal” or “a fair amount.” Local health departments (77%), the CDC (76%), and friends and family (75%) also got high marks. President Joe Biden (68%) and state government officials (61%) did not fare as well.
The survey, conducted by EMC Research on behalf of the Bay Area Council during the week of March 10-16, used a random sample of registered voters who responded to an email or text invitation to complete the online questionnaire in English, Spanish or Chinese. The council said demographics including age, gender and ethnicity are representative of Bay Area voters.
The survey has a margin of error of 3.1%.
Shende said Sonoma County is close to completing its own survey on vaccine reluctance. The county will send it first to skilled nursing facilities and other elder care centers, and widen the base of respondents from there.
“It will be a very comprehensive survey,” Shende said. “I think that will give us more detailed information.”
You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.