Poll: Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Delta variant 'poses a serious risk' — yet few vaccine holdouts are swayed

·West Coast Correspondent
·6 min read

With the hyper-contagious Delta variant well on its way to becoming dominant in the U.S., nearly three-quarters of Americans believe it “poses a serious risk” to the country’s progress against the pandemic, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.

Yet so far very few of those most vulnerable to sickness, hospitalization or death from Delta — the unvaccinated — say its spread has made them more inclined to shield themselves and others through inoculation.

The survey of 1,592 U.S. adults, which was conducted from June 22 to 24, found that while 72 percent think Delta poses a serious risk to either “all Americans” (27 percent) or “unvaccinated Americans” (45 percent), just 15 percent of the latter group say the dangers of Delta have increased their likelihood of getting a jab.

In fact, nearly as many unvaccinated Americans (10 percent) say Delta’s rise has made them less likely to get vaccinated. A full 75 percent say it has made no difference.

Protesters holding placards gather at Indiana University's Sample Gates during the demonstration in Bloomington, Indiana on June 10, 2021. Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers gathered at Indiana University's Sample Gates to protest against mandatory Covid vaccinations IU is requiring for students, staff and faculty during the upcoming fall semester. (Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A protest at Indiana University on June 10 against COVID-19 vaccinations the university is requiring for the fall semester. (Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

These numbers underscore America’s toughest lingering challenge as mass vaccination allows COVID restrictions to lapse and more and more residents to resume normal, pre-pandemic life: the fact that 34 percent of the adult population — and 46 percent of the total population — has not yet received even one vaccine shot, leaving them susceptible to a variant that spreads 40 to 60 percent more easily than any of its predecessors and is already boosting infections and hospitalizations in countries with higher vaccination rates than the U.S.

Making matters worse, the unvaccinated are concentrated in certain communities, which further helps the virus spread. A full 32 percent of 2020 Donald Trump voters, for instance, say they will never get vaccinated, versus just 3 percent of Joe Biden voters, 11 percent of Latino Americans and 15 percent of Black Americans.

Even local spikes in hospitalization and infection — of the sort now underway in Missouri, Nevada and Utah — are unlikely to make much difference. According to the poll, just 19 percent of unvaccinated Americans say they’d be inclined to change their minds if “COVID cases start to rise in my area.” A full 60 percent say the opposite.

As to why so many Americans are refusing free vaccination even in the face of the most dangerous variant yet, the poll is clear. The main reason is not lack of “easy access to vaccination” (5 percent), or the difficulty of securing “time off from work” (3 percent), or prior infection with COVID-19 (6 percent), or even the fact that they’re “not worried about getting” COVID (12 percent).

A protester holds a placard that says I am already immune during the demonstration in Bloomington, Indiana on June 10, 2021.
(Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Protesters at the Indiana demonstration. (Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

It’s because they “don’t trust the COVID-19 vaccines” (51 percent) — despite abundant safety and efficacy data and statistical proof that a deadly virus is far riskier than the extremely low-risk vaccines.

As a result, the U.S. has effectively run out of people who are willing to get vaccinated — just 2 percent say they plan to receive a shot “as soon as it is available” to them — at the same time most of the country seems to have embraced reopening and cast aside their masks.

For the first time since Yahoo News and YouGov started asking the question last year, for instance, less than half of Americans (45 percent) say they wore a mask outside their home “always” or “most of the time” during the past week, down from 56 percent a month ago and 78 percent in late March. The share who say they “always” wear a mask has plummeted from 57 percent in March to just 24 percent today.

Another first: Self-reported mask wearing is now at the same level among the vaccinated (45 percent) and the unvaccinated (44 percent) — a shift from the recent pattern of vaccinated Americans masking up at higher rates than unvaccinated Americans because they were also the ones who tended to worry more about the virus. As recently as March, 90 percent of vaccinated Americans told Yahoo News and YouGov that they were wearing masks outside their homes.

Likewise, 38 percent of vaccinated Americans now say they “wear a mask indoors less often” (up from 15 percent in mid-May); 42 percent say they “socialize more with family and friends” (up from 30 percent in mid-May). A mere 20 percent say their “life hasn’t changed” since they were vaccinated.

More broadly, 58 percent of all Americans now feel comfortable “hugging vaccinated people without masks” (up from 37 percent in mid-March); 59 percent now feel comfortable “eating indoors at a bar or restaurant” (up from 41 percent); and 66 percent now feel comfortable gathering indoors with vaccinated people (up from 50 percent).

Agreement that mask wearing should be mandatory in public has also fallen from 63 percent in late April to a new low of 40 percent today — even as support for “having vaccine passports so that people can prove they are vaccinated” is up 4 points to 50 percent, with just 36 percent opposed. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) also say businesses should have “the right to require masks of all customers” if they want, and most (53 percent) say they support giving customers a choice between showing proof of vaccination and masking up.

Fans show proof of being fully vaccinated as they arrive for a concert by Coldplay on NBC's
People show proof of vaccination before a concert by Coldplay on the “Today” show in New York City, June 17. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Such nuanced views reflect the emerging reality of a “post-pandemic” America where the vaccinated and unvaccinated are both returning to normal — yet the latter remain at much higher risk. Even now, unvaccinated Americans are more comfortable than vaccinated Americans with hugging the unvaccinated (by 18 points); shaking hands (by 3 points); gathering indoors with the unvaccinated (by 19 points); attending a sporting event in an enclosed arena (by 12 points); going on a family vacation by airplane (by 2 points); and returning to the office (5 points).

Yet the rise of Delta would seem to argue for more caution or more inoculation. To be sure, America has made remarkable strides against COVID. Cases are down 95 percent from their horrific winter peak; deaths are down 91 percent.

But that’s because of vaccination. Among those who’ve heard of Delta, more than two-thirds (67 percent) say they are either very or somewhat worried about it spreading in the U.S., where it can still cause hospitalizations and deaths that vaccination could otherwise prevent.

With that presumably in mind, a full 62 percent of Americans say no when asked if “the COVID-19 pandemic [is] over in the U.S.” Just 21 percent say yes.

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,592 U.S. adults interviewed online from June 22 to 24, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or non-vote), and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is 2.7 percent.

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