Photo: Annenberg Public Policy Center
In July, New York State health officials notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of a case of paralytic polio in an unvaccinated adult in Rockland County, N.Y. Wastewater samples from communities near the patient’s home confirmed that poliovirus was present in those areas. The virus has been found in wastewater samples in New York City, as well.
Polio was once one of the most feared diseases in the United States, according to the CDC. The polio vaccine used in the United States protects against severe disease in nearly everyone – 99 out of 100 people – who has received all four recommended doses. Among U.S. kindergarten students, the CDC reports that 93% had received all four doses by the 2020-21 school year. But the statewide polio vaccination rate in New York state was under 79%.
Despite the renewed threat, the latest Annenberg Science Knowledge (ASK) national panel survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that a sizable portion of the U.S. public is unfamiliar with the risks of polio.
The latest survey, conducted in October, examines public knowledge and beliefs about the poliovirus, the bivalent Covid-19 vaccine booster, monkeypox, and other matters of public health.
Among the findings:
“The victory over polio is one of the great medical achievements of the 20th century,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “It would be tragic if under-vaccination were to jeopardize that accomplishment.”
The nationally representative panel of 1,572 U.S. adults surveyed by SSRS for the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University (APPC) of Pennsylvania from October 11-18, 2022, was the ninth wave of an Annenberg Science Knowledge survey whose respondents were first empaneled in April 2021. The margin of sampling error (MOE) is ± 3.4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. See the Appendix and Methodology for additional information.
The latest wave of the ASK survey finds that much of the public is knowledgeable about certain aspects of polio but there are substantial levels of uncertainty:
Higher risk for polio: Most of the survey respondents are unsure about practices that would put a person at higher risk for contracting polio:
See the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s project FactCheck.org for more information on polio.
This fall, the CDC recommended a bivalent mRNA Covid-19 vaccine booster dose for people ages five and older, to be given at least two months after the primary vaccine series or another booster (the CDC also says “you may consider delaying” a vaccine primary dose or booster three months after symptomatic Covid or a positive Covid test). The bivalent booster is designed to target the original version of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 as well as two omicron subvariants. The two subvariants accounted for most cases in the United States as of late August. (See FactCheck.org’s Q&A on the booster.)
Although survey respondents overwhelmingly say they do not have concerns about the safety or effectiveness of the new booster, they show much less acceptance of it than the vaccines against polio or monkeypox:
While interest in getting the Covid booster is weaker than for some other vaccines, the survey respondents think that younger and older people would benefit from getting it.
The survey finds that 60% of the public says that if someone in their household was 5 to 18 years old, they’d be likely to recommend that that person get the updated Covid-19 booster (asked of a subsample). More (69%) say it’s likely that a healthy young person would benefit from getting the new booster, which targets both the original coronavirus and the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Nearly 4 out of 5 people (79%) say it’s likely that a person over 65 years old would benefit from taking the booster.
Despite the lower level of support for the Covid booster, the public has few safety or efficacy concerns about it. Only 7% think it is less safe than the original Covid vaccine, while 60% in total think it is either as safe (48%) or more safe (12%) than the original. Only 8% think the new booster is less effective than the original, while 58% in total think it is either as effective (37%) or more effective (21%) than the original. In both questions, about a third of respondents are not sure.
There is greater concern about getting “long Covid,” the series of lingering harmful effects such as fatigue and neurological problems that may follow infection with Covid-19, than with getting Covid-19 itself. Asked how bad it would be to have different diseases and illnesses, the public sees long Covid as not as bad as skin cancer but as bad as monkeypox and worse than measles:
“With uptake of the bivalent vaccine worrisomely low,” Jamieson noted, “it is important that the public know that some studies have found the risk of long Covid is lower after vaccination.” Under 12% of the U.S. adult population has had the updated bivalent booster, the CDC says.
The relatively lower level of concern with getting Covid may reflect our survey respondents’ real-world experience: 47% of our survey panel say they have tested positive for Covid-19 and 23% of this Covid-positive group has had it more than once (which is equivalent to 11% of the overall U.S. population). Far fewer people (6%) say they have or have had long Covid (11% are not sure). A larger group of respondents (29%) know someone who has experienced long Covid.
The CDC said estimates of how many people develop long Covid symptoms vary widely depending on how a study was conducted: 13.3% had long Covid symptoms at one month or longer after infection; 2.3% reported symptoms at three months or longer; and over 30% at six months among patients who were hospitalized.
When asked when they expect to be able to return to their normal, pre-Covid-19 lives, nearly half of those surveyed in October (47%) say they already have, up from 41% in July, 32% in April, and 16% in January. Those who feel the return to normal is still more than a year away is down to 13%, from 19% in July.
Similarly, the number of people who say they never wear a mask when in contact indoors with those who are not a part of their household has continued to increase. One-third of those surveyed (34%) say they never wear a mask or face covering, up from 27% in July. And the number who say they always wear a mask or face covering indoors with others who are from outside their household has dropped to 7%, from 11% in July.
See the Appendix for question wording and data and the Methodology for additional information. Read about prior Annenberg Science Knowledge surveys.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center(APPC) was established in 1993 to educate the public and policy makers about communication’s role in advancing public understanding of political, science, and health issues at the local, state, and federal levels. APPC is the home of FactCheck.org and its SciCheck program, whose Covid-19/Vaccination Project seeks to debunk misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines, and increase exposure to accurate information.