Survey: Doctors key to convincing unvaccinated Detroiters shots are safe

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

As Detroit residents lag behind in COVID-19 vaccinations, University of Michigan researchers believe doctors can play a critical role in getting more city residents vaccinated by assuaging fears over the safety of the shots.

A survey, released Thursday, showed that 55% of Detroit residents trust their doctor or health care provider to provide accurate information on COVID-19 as opposed to 19% who trust the news media for vaccine information.

The finding led UM researchers to conclude that Detroit — which with 38% of residents having received at least one dose lags surrounding communities and the state average — may need to try a different approach in the work to get more residents vaccinated. 

"(T)hese data highlight that trust, and not access, is the main factor deterring Detroiters from getting vaccinated at this stage," said Elisabeth Gerber, professor of public policy and political science and research associate in the Center for Political Studies at the UM Institute for Social Research. 

A survey, released Thursday, showed that 55% of Detroit residents trust their doctor or health care provider to provide accurate information on COVID-19 as opposed to 19% who trust the news media for vaccine information.

"More personal appeals to get vaccinated are more likely to be persuasive than mass appeals through news media," Gerber added.

Denise Fair, chief public health officer for the Detroit Health Department, said officials have been providing data-driven information to Detroit residents to make sure they can make educated decisions around COVID-19.

"The survey results certainly reinforce the strong need for Detroiters to rely on trusted messengers such as doctors, nurses and public health professionals about vaccine safety and efficacy," Fair said. "Based on our data, the overwhelming majority of those who are sick and dying of Covid have not been vaccinated. We will continue to focus our outreach to Detroiters about how to stay safe from COVID-19."

Access has been a key part of the city's strategy and officials have made the vaccine available at sites across Detroit during extended hours, drive-throughs, walk-ins, pop-ups and in-home visits.

The top reasons cited by unvaccinated Detroiters for their hesitancy are the safety of the vaccine (29%), side effects from the shots (22%), and effectiveness (18%).

The survey also showed that getting residents vaccinated is not insurmountable because attitudes can and have changed during the pandemic. More than one in three residents, 34%, who said between January and March they were neutral or unlikely to get vaccinated have since received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

Jeffrey Morenoff, professor of public policy and sociology, and director of the Institute for Social Research's Population Research Center, said the data suggest that some people's negative attitudes toward the vaccine have changed. 

"There is some room for hope here,” he said. “There remains a group of people who are hard-nosed and are going to be holdouts. But there is a group of fence-sitters who need to be persuaded and incentivized a little more.”

Michigan began a $5 million sweepstakes program to give cash to residents who get vaccinated but it is not prompting significant change: state residents with at least one dose ticked up 1 percentage point since the July 1 launch, from 51.5% to 52.5%.

UM's survey is part of the university's Detroit Metro Area Communities Study, an initiative that surveys Detroit residents on a variety of issues. It is the seventh survey of 2,000 residents since spring 2020 about how COVID-19 is shaping the lives of Detroit residents. In March, the university released a survey of Detroiters willingness to get the vaccine

The latest survey was conducted from June 2 to July 9. It captures the perspectives of 1,898 Detroit residents and is weighted to represent the community.

Detroit residents of color and residents under age 40 are less likely to have been vaccinated, a trend seen nationally.

Detroit's COVID-19 dashboard shows that about 38% of residents so far have received one dose. But that is significantly less than 63% in outer-Wayne County, 55% in Macomb County and 66% in Oakland and Washtenaw counties. 

COVID-19 cases rising again in Michigan and public health officials warning about a pandemic among the unvaccinated.

"Our data call attention to opportunities to continue increasing vaccination levels across the city," said Morenoff. "Many residents who told us in previous waves that they were unlikely to be vaccinated have in fact gotten a vaccine shot, suggesting that there is a persuadable population. We also find very few residents who start but don't complete their vaccine course, which means if we can get people in the pipeline we can keep building immunity in our communities."