SALT LAKE CITY — Melanie Hill doesn’t do well with flu shots. In fact, she typically got her annual injection on a Friday knowing she would be sick for a couple of days.

For that reason, the Lehi resident said she likely won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“For probably the last five years or six years I haven’t gotten (a flu shot) and actually had healthier winters. I don’t think my body responds well to the flu,” said Hill, the mother of two high schoolers and one in elementary school.

“I vaccinate my kids. My husband will probably get it, but my body doesn’t do well with it.”

Hill is among nearly a quarter of Utahns who say they would not take an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine if it were available, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

And nearly another quarter of Utahns say they don’t know if they’d take it.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters in Utah found 52% of residents would get the vaccine, 24% would not and 23% said they aren’t sure. The poll conducted by Scott Rasmussen on Sept. 7-12 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

“I just don’t trust it where it’s so new. I want to see what other healthier bodies would do with it before I would get it,” Hill said. “I have friends who legit believe that there’s a microchip in it and it’s a government scam. I don’t believe that.”

Scientists have been racing to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus since the outbreak began. Three of the six leading candidates are in the final testing stage and could be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval by the end of the year.

The U.S. has spent billions of dollars on research to quickly develop multiple COVID-19 vaccines. But public fear that a vaccine is unsafe or ineffective could hinder efforts to inoculate millions of Americans. 

“People are kind of afraid of new things. We were already kind of riding the wave of anti-vaccine sentiment. That was increasing and then you get this new vaccine that hasn’t been tested,” said Brian Poole, an assistant professor of microbiology and molecular biology at Brigham Young University.

Poole just finished a study looking at why people are hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Most worry about the side effects and that it’s being rushed. Even those who are willing to have the vaccine fear the side effects will be worse than the disease, he said.

His study found that 68% of Americans would get the vaccine in the next 30 days. That jumps to 73% looking down the road six months, he said.

At least 60% to 70% of the population would need to take the vaccine to get the epidemic headed downward, according to Poole.

“That won’t stop the virus, but it will slow it down so it can’t be spreading faster than it goes away,” he said.

Salt Lake County Health Department worker administers hepatitis A vaccine to a patron. | David Skorut, Salt Lake County Health Department.

Poole said he’s confident enough in the vaccine that he signed up as a test subject for the clinical trials.

Women more reluctant

Men are more apt to get the vaccine than women. The poll showed 62% of men compared to 43% of women would get immunized for COVID-19.

Among political ideologies, 64% of Utahns who identified themselves as liberals would take the vaccine compared to 57% of moderates and 45% of conservatives.

The debate about a vaccine comes as daily coronavirus cases in Utah continue an uptick, with the Utah Department of Health reporting 562 new cases on Tuesday. The rolling seven-day average topped 500 for the first time since July when the state saw its highest peaks.

Kristen Chevrier, director of Your Health Freedom, said the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll results reveal that there is a lot of uncertainty, fear and a general lack of solid, reliable data being shared by the media, health departments and elected officials.

Your Health Freedom aims to educate people on making “informed” health decisions and advocates for “sound” health policy, rules and laws, according to its website. The group believes that no medical intervention, including vaccines, should be mandated by government.

Some of the leading vaccine proponents, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, have cautioned against rushing a vaccine, she said.

“I must warn that there is also the possibility of negative consequences, where certain vaccines can actually enhance the negative effect of the infection. The big unknown is efficacy. Will it be present or absent, and how durable will it be?” Fauci said at a recent Senate hearing.

But Fauci has also said he’s “fairly confident” and “cautiously optimistic” there will be a safe, effective vaccine by the end of the year or in early 2021.

Chevrier said a COVID-19 vaccine poses huge risks and is unnecessary. The low infection mortality ratio for the virus indicates extreme measures, like mass vaccines, are “absolutely uncalled for,” she said.

To keep mentally and physically fit — and alive — the economy needs to get on track now, she said.

“The majority of the population should be interacting with each other. We can safeguard the most vulnerable, while proactively boosting immunity and using existing therapeutics with those who become infected,” Chevrier said, adding that would create natural herd immunity.

Poole said he would recommend getting a COVID-19 vaccine if it’s properly and thoroughly tested.

“I think we may have gone beyond the point of eradication, but if we vaccinate enough people, we can get it out of America,” he said. “If everybody gets vaccinated, then we can make is so that even if a person gets sick here or there, it’s not an epidemic anymore. We don’t have to worry about it anymore. Even if it’s not gone from the earth, it’s basically gone from our consciousness.”

100% ‘not realistic’

Midvale resident Alex Quintana is among Utahns who aren’t sure about getting vaccinated but is leaning against it. The 25-year-old isn’t anti-vaccine but said he doesn’t know enough about the long-term effects or how safe and effective it would be.

“I feel like it is being rushed. I would want more information about the vaccine before I got one,” he said.

Tom Hudachko, state health department spokesman, said it’s fair for people to feel that way as they look for good information from trusted sources. The vaccine will be an important part of the state’s response and will be the most visible piece of its public awareness campaign going forward, he said.

The health department’s own survey shows about 73% of Utahns would be very or somewhat likely get the vaccine.

“We, of course, would like to see that number be higher. We’d like to see that be 100%. We know that’s not realistic,” he said.

About 40% to 45% of Utahns get a flu shot each year. The health department is aiming for 60% this year.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told a Senate committee last week that studying the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine candidates is the agency’s top priority. He and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the panel that there would be no shortcuts.

“It will be safe or it won’t be moved along,” Adams said.

The CEOs for AstraZeneca, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Moderna, Novovax, Pfizer and Sanofi have agreed to submit the vaccines for clearance only when they’re shown to be safe and effective in large clinical studies.