Most Kentuckians agree: For them, the pandemic is over

Published 6:42 am Sunday, August 14, 2022

Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News

Even as the share of Kentuckians testing positive for the coronavirus continues to rise, about a third of the state’s adults believe the pandemic is over, and more than half believe it is over as it pertains to their own lives, according to a Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky poll taken June 4 through July 13.

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What this means is that Kentuckians are back to living their normal everyday lives, despite the ongoing pandemic, foundation president and CEO Ben Chandler said at a news conference Tuesday.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maps; click to enlarge.

“We have to remember to stay vigilant against the virus,” Chandler said. “Research shows the best way to avoid severe illness and death is to stay up to date with vaccines and boosters. Other ways to keep on guard include staying home if you feel sick, and testing, wearing a mask in a big crowd and getting healthier by doing things like eating nutritious foods.”

One dose provides very little protection, experts say.

The poll found that 65.4% of Kentucky adults said they believed the pandemic was not yet over in Kentucky, 31.7 % said it was over and 3% said they didn’t know. But when asked if the pandemic was over as it pertains to their own lives, 53.3% said it was, 44.7% said it was not, and 2% said they didn’t know.

In both cases, the share who said the pandemic was over was higher among men and younger age groups.

The pandemic is clearly not over. The state’s latest weekly report showed a 6.8% increase in coronavirus cases last week, with 2,236 new cases per day. The positive-test rate, which does not include home tests, rose to 18.41%; hospitalizations increased; and 67 more deaths were attributed to the virus, the largest weekly total since 79 were reported in mid-May. Kentucky has the second highest infection rate in the nation, according to The New York Times.

Good news and bad news

Chandler said the good news from this poll is that when unvaccinated Kentucky adults were asked if they would get a vaccination, about one-third of them appeared open to the possibility.

The bad news is that poll found that the number of unvaccinated Kentuckians who say they “definitely will not” get vaccinated is going up. The poll found that 63.5% of the unvaxed said they definitely will not, compared to 46.6% in August 2021 and 19% in February 2021.

On the other hand, the poll found that 2.1% said they would get a shot as soon as possible; 18.7% said they were waiting to see how the vaccines worked for other people; and 15.6% said they would only get a shot if it was required for school, work or other activities.

“We think these responses are encouraging,” said Chandler. “This shows there are still movable people and we should continue educational efforts to increase confidence in the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and boosters.” The reportedly persuadable unvaccinated are about 12% of the state population.

Chandler said focus groups, small-group discussions about current topics, have found Kentuckians want to discuss vaccination with their doctors and it’s not too late to have those conversations.

“We’ve been able to drill down on this point with some of our recent focus groups, and feel there’s an opportunity to educate people about the risks from getting Covid-19, including severe illness and ‘long Covid’ symptoms, compared to the risks of side effects and benefits of the Covid-19 vaccines and boosters,” he said.

According to the state Department for Public Health, 34% of Kentuckians have not received a Covid-19 vaccine. That amounts to 1.5 million. If 36% of this unvaccinated group are still open to getting a shot, as Chandler suggests, that means about 550,000 Kentuckians could still be convinced to get it.

The poll found an increase in those who believe getting a Covid-19 vaccine is a personal choice and fewer saw it as a “part of everyone’s responsibility to protect the health of the community.” In February 2021, Kentuckians were split nearly equally on this issue, but the most recent poll shows 62.7%, believe it is a personal choice.

Confidence in the vaccines is dropping

The poll also found that among the unvaccinated, confidence in the vaccines’ efficacy has lessened since the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants and subvariants, with 76.4% of unvaccinated Kentucky adults doubting effectiveness of the vaccines, up from 65.7% in August 2021.

The most recent poll found that of the 76.4% of unvaccinated adults who doubted effectiveness of the vaccines, 45.6% said the vaccines are “not effective at all,” 30.8% said they are “a little effective,” 20.7% said they are moderately effective, 2.1% said they are very effective ad 0.8% said they didn’t know.

In August 2021, 43.8% of this group said the vaccines were “not effective at all” and 21.9% said they were only “a little effective.”

The poll also found real concern among Kentucky adults about the effectiveness of the vaccines and boosters against future strains of the coronavirus. Among the unvaccinated, 52.4% said a vaccine would not be “effective at all” against new strains, marginally higher than in August 2021.

Among fully vaccinated adults, 75.7% said they felt booster shots would be “moderately effective” or “very effective” in protecting them, but only 63.8% said the booster shots would have the same levels of protection against new strains of the virus.

Chandler said this lack of confidence in the vaccines, especially when it comes to protecting against new variants, is one reason that it is hard to get unvaccinated Kentuckians vaccinated.

He said the foundation will use these insights to inform vaccine outreach and educational efforts. “We hope the information encourages health-care workers to continue talking with patients about the vaccine and boosters discussing those risks and benefits and dispelling misinformation,” he said.

The poll, which was funded by the foundation, was conducted by the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research. It surveyed a random sample of 814 Kentucky adults via landline and cell phones and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.