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NextLI poll finds 53% of Long Islanders would get COVID-19 vaccine; 31% unsure

Newsday asked Long Islanders if they would consider

Newsday asked Long Islanders if they would consider getting the coronavirus vaccine, when one becomes available. In a nextLI survey, 16% of respondents said they wouldn’t take the vaccine, and 31% were unsure. Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman

Barely half of Long Islanders said they would obtain a coronavirus vaccine if one were to become available, despite intense concerns about COVID-19’s impact on their health, finances and children’s education, a new nextLI survey shows.

The poll found that only 53% of Long Islanders said they intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine, if one is developed, with 16% saying they wouldn’t and 31% unsure. Other polls also have found muted enthusiasm for a vaccine.

The survey of 1,043 Long Island residents was conducted between June 22 and July 1 by YouGov for nextLI. The nextLI project is a Newsday initiative funded by a grant from the Rauch Foundation, with a goal of stimulating Islandwide discussion of public policy questions.

The survey also found that:

  • 22% of Long Islanders have only “a little trust” in “the scientific community’s assessment of the risks presented by global pandemics such as COVID-19,” and 11% have no trust at all.
  • 54% of respondents said they are somewhat or much more likely ”to support expanding access to health coverage” because of COVID-19
  • Nearly 3 in 4 said “local government on Long Island” did very or fairly well in meeting the community’s needs during the peak of COVID-19, while 2 in 3 said local government has performed well during the reopening process, and 58% said it did so during the early stages of the pandemic.

A vaccine could be available "over a period of time in 2021," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. House panel investigating the nation's response to the pandemic on Friday, The Associated Press reported.

Barun Mathema, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University and an infectious disease expert, said “it is certainly not unreasonable” to not commit in advance to getting a vaccine that has not yet been released.

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“When you hear public health officials saying we are moving at a pace that is unprecedented … there could be a concern, ‘Are we moving too fast?’ ” he said.

Federal health officials have said a vaccine will not be widely released without extensive safety and efficacy testing, with Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, telling The Associated Press that “this is an effort to try to achieve efficiencies, but not to sacrifice rigor.”

Even so, LeRoy Greene, 66, of Hempstead, said he doesn’t trust the Trump administration to be honest and transparent about a vaccine, and worries vaccine development is proceeding too quickly.

“It’s new, so we don’t know the effects of it,” said Greene, who was not part of the survey.

Even those open to getting a vaccine are cautious: Just 14% said they’d be “among the first to get the vaccine,” with 33% saying they’d obtain the vaccine early, but only after others first get it, 32% saying they either will wait for most people to get the vaccine or will be among the last to obtain it, and 22% were unsure.

Jennifer Bileci is one of those planning to take a vaccine, but only after it’s clear what the side effects are, and that it is safe.

“I’d want it to be thoroughly tested,” said Bileci, 28, of Northport, who did not participate in the survey. “I wouldn’t get it right away, but I’d wait until a few batches come out.”

The poll found that 66% of Long Islanders 60 and older would get a vaccine, compared with 46% of adults under 40.

Mathema said that “could be a perceived risk-benefit assessment”: Older adults are more vulnerable to serious cases of COVID-19, or death, than younger adults and may believe they have more to gain from getting a vaccine, he said.

That same risk-benefit calculus could help explain why only 38% of parents in the survey said they would get their children vaccinated against the coronavirus, with 37% saying they wouldn’t — even though 91% of those parents said their children receive routine vaccinations for other illnesses.

Studies show children are much less likely to have severe cases of COVID-19, so “if the benefit is very, very minimal in their [parents’] perception, why take the risk?” Mathema said.

Five months after Long Island had its first coronavirus case, and after an early April peak when nearly 800 New Yorkers a day were dying from COVID-19, Long Islanders continue to worry about contracting the virus, even as the number of new cases has dwindled.

Seventy-two percent were very or fairly worried family members or friends may become seriously unwell or die from COVID-19, and 55% had the same concern for themselves.

Jaquana Davis, 30, of Hempstead, works as a patient care technician at Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside and has had close contact with numerous COVID-19 patients. She wears personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, but, even so, “It’s scary,” she said.

“But I know these people need me,” she said. “If everyone in the health field quits and doesn’t go to work, what will happen to them?”

Davis worries about her 80-year-old mother, who has asthma and lives in North Carolina with two sisters.

“She stays inside,” she said. “We don’t let her go to the store or anywhere.”

She also works to protect her two daughters, who are 6 and 8. On a recent afternoon, Davis stood — a mask covering her mouth and nose — holding a blanket while at Kennedy Memorial Park in Hempstead watching her kids play on the playground.

“If it’s too crowded at the playground, I have this blanket” that she spreads out on the grass so she and her daughters can relax away from others, she said.

Sukhjinder Virdi also is vigilant with his family. The Levittown man works behind the counter of, and makes deliveries for, a Howard Beach, Queens, Dunkin’.

“I never take off my mask and gloves” while working, and after he gets home, he takes his work clothes off and showers before he hugs his wife and 1½-year old daughter.

“I’m worried about my family,” he said.

Virdi was wearing a mask while his daughter played at a playground in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow. But most of the adults and children at the playground, or attending gatherings or playing nearby, were not wearing masks, even though many were fewer than 6 feet from others.

Yet 97% of Long Islanders said in the survey that they “currently wear a mask in public.”

Amanda Fiscina, project manager for nextLI and editor for Newsday's Opinion section, said that number doesn’t jibe with what she has seen on Long Island.

“People know the right public health policy and behavior is to wear a mask and they feel very socially conscious to answer that they wear a mask, but then in reality it’s really not happening,” she said.

In a sign that Long Islanders are not expecting the pandemic to end soon, 28% expect to wear a mask in public “indefinitely,” and 41% expect wearing a mask will be part of their routine for the rest of 2020.

Many also said they expect to continue for at least a year to limit their social activities. More than 4 in 10 don’t believe they would be comfortable attending a concert or sporting event a year from now, 34% said they wouldn’t feel comfortable riding the Long Island Rail Road or other public transportation, 31% wouldn’t be comfortable attending religious services, and 17% wouldn’t be comfortable dining indoors at a restaurant.

Young adults are more likely than older adults to say they would be comfortable in such public venues, said Kristen Harmeling, a senior vice president for market research at YouGov, the London-based research and public opinion group that conducted the survey for nextLI.

“Young people want to be young people,” she said. “They want to have their social life.”

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