A medical scientist runs a clinical test at the UW Medicine immunology lab in Seattle to look for antibodies against a virus strain that causes COVID-19. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
A medical scientist runs a clinical test at the UW Medicine immunology lab in Seattle to look for antibodies against a virus strain that causes COVID-19. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

Majorities in U.S. expect COVID-19 treatment and vaccine ahead – as well as another outbreakMost Americans are optimistic that medical advances to treat or prevent the coronavirus are on the horizon, and around seven-in-ten say they would get a vaccine for COVID-19 if it were available, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted April 29-May 5.

Americans’ expectations for the year ahead include an effective treatment or cure for COVID-19, as well as a vaccine to prevent the disease: 83% and 73% of U.S. adults, respectively, say these developments will definitely or probably occur. At the same time, 83% of adults expect another coronavirus outbreak within the year, and 69% expect the focus on the coronavirus to delay progress on other disease treatments.

How we did this

This analysis about Americans’ attitudes toward a potential coronavirus vaccine, clinical trials and experimental treatments is based on a survey of 10,957 U.S. adults conducted from April 29 to May 5, 2020. Everyone who took part is a member of Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

72% of U.S. adults say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if available today

Around seven-in-ten adults (72%) say they would definitely (42%) or probably (30%) get a coronavirus vaccine if one were available, while about a quarter (27%) say they would not. The survey comes amid concerns that activists and others who are hesitant to get vaccinated for other diseases might not get inoculated against the coronavirus.

Majorities across demographic groups say they would get vaccinated for the coronavirus, but there are some differences by race and ethnicity, partisanship, religion and other factors.

Black Americans are less likely than white and Hispanic Americans to say they would get a vaccine. A little over half of black adults (54%) say they would, while 44% say they would not. By comparison, 74% of both Hispanic and white adults say they would get a vaccine if one were available. (In a Pew Research Center survey in 2019, black adults were also less inclined than white adults to see strong preventive benefits of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.)

Republicans and white evangelical Protestants are also somewhat less inclined to get a coronavirus vaccine. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, 65% say they would definitely or probably do so, while 34% say they would not. Among white evangelical Protestants, 62% say they would get a coronavirus vaccine and 37% say they would not.

About two-thirds of Americans see clinical trials as very important processThe path to new treatments can be a long and uncertain one. The Food and Drug Administration requires new treatments to go through a process of test runs – known as clinical trials – to establish that they are safe and effective in treating people with a specific disease.

In the new survey, about two-thirds of U.S. adults (64%) say the process of clinical trials is very important, “even if it will lengthen the time it takes to develop new treatments.” Around three-in-ten (31%) say the clinical trial process is somewhat important, and just 5% say it is not too or not at all important.

Democrats place more importance on clinical trials than Republicans. Around three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners (74%) call this process very important, compared with 54% of Republicans and GOP leaners.

A majority in U.S. see net benefits of allowing access to experimental drugsThe new survey also asked Americans to consider the overall risks and benefits of access to experimental treatments before the completion of clinical trials. (This process is already happening for some patients with the coronavirus.) Around six-in-ten Americans (59%) say the benefits of allowing more people to access experimental drugs outweigh the risks, while 40% say the risks outweigh the benefits.

Republicans are more likely to say the benefits outweigh the risks (69% vs. 29%), but Democrats are about evenly divided (50% vs. 48%). Black adults are more likely than white and Hispanic adults to say the risks of experimental treatments outweigh the benefits: A 57% majority of black adults say this.

Note: Here are the questions used for this report, along with responses, and its methodology.

Cary Lynne Thigpen  is a former research assistant focusing on science and society.
Cary Funk  is director of science and society research at Pew Research Center.