SUNY Jefferson

JCC & Syracuse University Partner to Study COVID Vaccine Hesitancy in Northern New York

Published: May 10, 2021

According to recent data from the Center for Community Studies at Jefferson Community College (JCC), about one quarter of North Country adults are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Partnering with the Public Health Department in the Falk School of Sport and the Human Dynamic at Syracuse University, the Center for Community Studies at JCC set out to better understand knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions regarding the pandemic and vaccine hesitancy. As vaccination rates have somewhat stalled across the country, many have framed vaccine hesitancy as a politically partisan issue. According to these results, this partisan framing is inaccurate. Among 875 adults in Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence Counties (New York State) surveyed in April 2021, questions about the safety, effectiveness, and necessity of the vaccine were the greatest predictors of vaccine hesitancy – not party affiliation or voting history.

“To better understand this recent increase COVID vaccine hesitancy we collected a wide variety of variables from adult residents that included political ideology and voting record”, says Joel LaLone, Research Director from the Center for Community Studies at JCC. “However, we also measured more than 40 additional variables on participants that included many knowledge, attitude and practice items related with the pandemic, along with potential social and demographic determinants.”

“In these counties the majority of people who voted for Trump have already been vaccinated; the majority of Republicans have already been vaccinated,” says David Larsen of the Department of Public Health, Syracuse University, New York, USA. “To frame vaccine hesitancy as politically partisan is lazy, inaccurate, and undermines our ability to address concerns and questions about the safety, effectiveness, and necessity of these excellent vaccines.”

This North Country study suggests that attitudes among the majority of adults in the region tend to be supportive of the public health measures that have been implemented in the region over the past year, and supportive of the COVID-19 vaccination process. However, a minority of adults in the region are opposed to the public health measures that have been implemented over the past year and hesitant about the vaccination process. These people tend to view COVID-19 as less severe and government responses to COVID-19 as over the top. Although vaccine hesitancy is associated with political ideology, perceived severity and trust in the vaccine testing process were stronger predictors. 

Vaccine hesitancy was measured among participants in this study with the resulting regional estimate being that 24% of North Country adults are COVID vaccine hesitant, either indicating that they do not plan to get vaccinated (17%) or that they are unsure at this time whether or not they will get vaccinated (7%).  This study has two predominate goals: (1) to better understand the prevalent knowledge, attitudes, and practices of North Country residents related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the available vaccine; and (2) to gain more understanding regarding factors that are associated with hesitancy to get the COVID vaccine.  This document is a preliminary release of study results addressing these two goals intended to provide information to local public health professionals and decision-makers in a timely actionable fashion. Subsequent data analysis will be completed in the future using this data set to add to the body of knowledge regarding pandemics and vaccine hesitancy on a larger more generalizable scale. 

To accomplish Goal #1 a series of 22 statements were provided to North Country participants and for each they were asked their level of agreement/disagreement. All statements involved common points of view related to the pandemic, changes in our communities and society over the past year, and the currently-being-distributed COVID vaccines.  The summarized results for all 22 statements may be found at
https://bit.ly/2Soyu4f. The following table summarizes the results for the eleven items out of the 22 studied that had the most dominant reported rates of agreement/disagreement. The reported majority rates of 50% or above suggest an attitude that could be considered quite common, or normal, among North Country adults.

KAP Statements: "Agree" "Disagree"
Getting the COVID vaccine is riskier to my health than actually getting COVID. 17% 71%
COVID-19 is worse than the flu. 67% 22%
I am not comfortable eating inside local restaurants right now. 28% 66%
I am concerned that the COVID vaccine will cause significant side effects that are worse than COVID. 24% 63%
Elementary school kids should be in school five days a week in my community right now. 63% 24%
Pre-K and elementary schools should have stayed open throughout the entire pandemic. 29% 61%
Face masks or coverings should be required for all persons everywhere in public indoor spaces, excluding infants and persons who are not able to wear masks. 56% 36%
The COVID vaccine was approved so quickly that I do not trust its safety. 32% 55%
Pre-K and elementary schools never should have closed.  35% 54%
The effectiveness and importance of social distancing of at least 6 feet has been exaggerated and too much of a big deal has been made of this. 40% 53%
I plan to continue wearing a mask when in public after normal business, school, and social activities in our community fully open back up. 53%

38%


To accomplish Goal #2 in this study a series of statistical models were created using varying underlying assumptions to attempt to identify which survey items (factors) are most strongly associated with vaccine hesitancy among Northern New York adults.  If these factors are identified then the phenomenon of COVID vaccine hesitancy will not only better understood, but potentially actionable processes could be identified to reduce vaccine hesitancy.  The models constructed and tested included potential explanatory factors (survey items) that were all of: the 22 KAP items described earlier, social factors, COVID experience and impact factors, and socio-demographic factors.  All models run under all varying data assumptions pointed toward the following group of most strongly correlated factors, with each individually providing information to best predict vaccine hesitancy and possibly implement programming and/or education to affect vaccination rates.  The nine most contributing factors, where subgroups differ in their vaccine hesitancy by the largest degree, include:

Explanatory Factors (associated with vaccine hesitancy)

% among this subgroup who indicate “COVID Vaccine Hesitancy” (among all participants this rate is 24%)

Age   
Among those adults age 18-39 34%
Among those adults age 60+ 9%
Political Party Affiliation   
Among registered Republicans 31%
Among registered Democrats 10
Presidential Voting Choice  
Among those who voted for Donald Trump in November 2020 34%
Among those who voted for Joe Biden in November 2020 6%
Perceived Severity of COVID-19  
Among those who believe that COVID is not a major health problem 61%
Among those who believe that COVID is a major health problem 17%
Concerns with Government Response to COVID – In General  
Among those who believe government will go too far in limiting us due to COVID 33%
Among those who believe government will not go far enough in limiting us due to COVID 4%
Concerns with Government Response to COVID – President Biden and US Government  
Among those who are satisfied with the response of President Biden and the US government to COVID 8%
Among those who are dissatisfied with the response of President Biden and the US government to COVID 42%
Concerns with Government Response to COVID – Governor Cuomo and NYS Government  
Among those who are satisfied with the response of Governor Cuomo and NYS Government to COVID 6%
Among those who are dissatisfied with the response of Governor Cuomo and NYS Government to COVID 34%
Perceived Risk of the COVID Vaccine  
Among those who agree that the COVID vaccine is riskier than getting COVID itself 72%
Among those who disagree that the COVID vaccine is riskier than getting COVID itself 9%
Vaccine Hesitancy in General – Flu Vaccinations  
Among those who typically get a flu shot each year 13%
Among those who typically do not get a flu shot each year 40%


The full file of cross-tabulations for all variables in this study is available at https://bit.ly/2PIwMJS.  The file of vaccine hesitancy cross-tabulations for this study is available at https://bit.ly/3vI4YVx.

The study, a collaboration between the Center for Community Studies and Syracuse University, used a mixed-mode sampling design where 875 randomly selected adults in Northern New York were surveyed, including 353 from Jefferson County, 218 from Lewis County, and 304 from St. Lawrence County. The survey sampling methodology used in this study is the customary best practices used by the Center for Community Studies, and approved by the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) with approximately 50% of participants surveyed via telephone from a remote virtual socially distanced call center by live interviewers, and the remaining 50% invited randomly via email contact to complete the survey online. All interviews were completed between April 5 and April 13, 2021. Survey results have been weighted toward population characteristics for gender, age, educational attainment, military affiliation, geography, and sampling modality to minimize nonresponse bias.  The result of these sampling and data curation methods is an approximate margin of error for this North Country regional study of ±3.8%.  A full county-specific description of the sample selected in this study may be found at https://bit.ly/3eRUBYe

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