What U.S. adults know and believe about polio and the bivalent COVID booster

A new survey finds that while Americans say they do not have concerns about the safety or effectiveness of the bivalent COVID booster, they show much less acceptance of it than the vaccines against polio or monkeypox.

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.

healthcare professional with syringe and vaccine

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 polio virus, the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine booster, monkeypox, and other matters of public health.

The survey finds that only a third of U.S. adults (33%) know there is no cure for polio—and over 1 in 5 U.S. adults (22%) do not know whether they’ve been vaccinated against polio. Far more people report support for taking the vaccines against polio or monkeypox than the updated COVID bivalent booster (see question wording below). Additionally, few people regard the updated vaccine as less safe or efficacious than the original COVID vaccine—just 7% think it is less safe than the original while 8% consider it is less effective than the original. And almost half of American adults (47%) say they have returned to living their normal, pre-COVID lives, up from 41% in July.

“The victory over polio is one of the great medical achievements of the 20th century,” says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. “It would be tragic if under-vaccination were to jeopardize that accomplishment.”

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. 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, 85% say they are likely to recommend that an eligible person in their household get vaccinated with the polio vaccine; 76% say that if exposed to monkeypox they would be likely to take the monkeypox vaccine, which can be given after exposure (ideally, within four days). But less than half (45%) say they are likely to get the updated mRNA COVID booster if eligible to get it, about even with the 42% who say they are unlikely to get it.

Read more at Annenberg Public Policy Center.