Vaccine-hesitant Alaskans are most open to learning from family and friends, state survey says

Maria Rogers answers questions as she gets registered for her second vaccine appointment during Juneau’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic at Centennial Hall on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Nearly half of the Alaskans who responded to an online survey in March from the state health department said they had not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine yet or booked an appointment.

About half of that unvaccinated group said they probably or definitely won’t get vaccinated.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services released the survey results on Thursday.

Epidemiologist Sarah Aho said the department wants to learn more about why some Alaskans haven’t gotten a vaccine yet — and what questions they might have — as the push to get more people vaccinated continues.

“There’s so many topics to talk about with COVID vaccines. And we really want to make sure we are focusing on what we’re hearing from the community,” she said during a call with reporters Thursday afternoon.

The survey involved just over 1,200 randomly-selected Alaskans age 18 and up, who were all eligible for the vaccine.

According to the results, 51% had already gotten the vaccine or booked an appointment. And 5% thought they were not eligible for the vaccine and 12% were unsure.

The survey narrowed in on 163 of the respondents who were unvaccinated, but said they were open to learning more about the vaccine.

About a quarter of them said they don’t think COVID-19 is that serious.

But Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink pointed to the spike of infections and hospitalizations in Fairbanks.

“We have a really powerful tool against this virus,” she said. “But unfortunately, we are still seeing even very young people get very sick and die. We’ve had two people in their 20s in the last couple of weeks die from COVID-19.”

Another 25% said they had not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine yet because of concerns about safety and side effects.

Zink countered: “It’s really easy to overestimate the side effects or the risk of something new versus underestimate the risk of something we do all the time, like getting in the car.”

Less common answers included concerns that the vaccine was rushed or conspiracy theories about it.

Also, according to the survey results, for about three-quarters of the hesitant group, their most trusted source of information about COVID-19 was their family and friends. They trusted their employers the least.

State health officials said they’ll use the survey information to help inform how they communicate about the vaccine.

People refusing COVID-19 vaccine shots — or hesitating to get them — is an issue concerning health officials across the country.

As of Friday, about almost half of Alaskans age 16 and up were fully vaccinated.

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