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Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside's latest Truth in Medicine poll shows residents are wary of Covid-19 vaccine

Return to schools is positive, unemployment rate high among minorities

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Nine months into a worldwide pandemic, less than half of metro area residents said they plan to get a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available, according to the latest Mount Sinai South Nassau public health poll.

The poll's findings underscore concerns about the vaccine's development and lack of trust in the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory process to ensure its safety and effectiveness.

However, most area residents responded that they believe the reopening of local schools has gone well, the poll showed. Forty-one percent of those polled have school age children and about half of them said their child returned to school at least part-time. More than 90 percent of them gave schools high marks for successfully reopening. And mask wearing in public has gained widespread acceptance, according to the poll.

Another key finding of the poll: respondents reported high job loss due to Covid among minorities in the area as compared to whites. And only half of those over 65 who were employed before the pandemic are still working at the same job.

Only 46 percent of respondents to the poll said they would get a Covid-19 vaccine. Among those who said they would not get it, two-thirds said they believed the vaccine is being rushed and they questioned its safety. In all, 54 percent of 600 metro area residents polled indicated that they trust the FDA to impartially determine that a Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective to release.

"We clearly have our work cut out for us in terms of educating the public on the safety of a Covid vaccine, assuming one is fully developed, tested, demonstrated to be safe and efficacious, and approved by the FDA," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, the chairman of the Department of Medicine. "The poll results show that there is significant concern about the approval process. It will be up to us in public health and in the government to make the case for a Covid vaccine once it becomes available. I have faith in the approval process being conducted by the FDA and that all the data will be analyzed by independent professionals. These professionals will be guided by the science and nothing else."

The public's vapid desire to vaccinate for Covid-19, as well as the flu, comes at a time when their trust in government agencies is at a low point. Just 32 percent of the poll's respondents said they trust the CDC "a lot," while 44 percent said they have "some" trust.

Overall, the public has widespread acceptance of mask wearing and maintaining social distancing to protect against and prevent the spread of the virus. In all, 92 percent of poll respondents said that they either wear a mask all the time when outside the home or when they can't social distance.

"If together we are going to continue our rigorous recovery from the overwhelming disruption caused by the pandemic and ensure that we don't experience significant setbacks from a second wave as well as the flu season, we must remain vigilant and wear masks in public and practice social distancing," MSSN Chief Medical Officer Dr. Adhi Sharma said.

About a month into the school year, parents and guardians with a child back in school responding to the poll said the return has been  successful. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 means not successful at all and 10 means very successful, the mean score was 6.82 and 7 percent of respondents offered a score of 1-4.

Parents and guardians are a bit less likely to attest that their children's return to school has been safe. Using a similar scale, where 1 means extremely unsafe and 10 means extremely safe, the mean score was 6.35 and 12 percent offered a score of 1-4. About half of the parents and guardians reported that at least one of their children has returned to school at least part time, with New York City households more likely to have a student back in school than Long Island households. 

The  poll also found that work life is still in recovery from the tumult caused by the pandemic. While three-quarters of area adults who were employed before Covid-19 are currently employed at the same job, 11 percent are at a different job and 14 percent remain unemployed. Of those who are at a different job or unemployed, 82 percent of them experienced a job change/loss because of the pandemic. Additionally, New York residents are more likely to have experienced a job change or lost their job than Long Island residents.

Only 18 percent of white respondents have changed or lost jobs since the pandemic started, compared to 31 percent of black respondents, 31 percent of Hispanic respondents and 32 percent of other race respondents.  Almost one in four (23 percent) of black respondents who were employed before Covid-19 are now unemployed. Meanwhile, only half of respondents 65 and older who were employed before the pandemic are still working at the same job.

The survey marked MSSN's third  Truth in Medicine poll of 2020, sponsored by Bethpage, on the region's response to coronavirus. It is a survey of Long Island and New York City adult residents that aims to gather data about attitudes on key public health topics and help spur education to improve public health. The poll was conducted from Oct. 4 to 8 via  landlines and cell phones with 600 residents in New York City and on Long Island. Poll findings are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.

The poll was conducted as part of the hospital's mission of improving education around critical public health issues. LJR Custom Strategies, with offices in Washington and New Orleans, conducted the poll. 

MSSN began conducting the public health poll in January 2017. This is Mount Sinai South Nassau's third public health poll of 2020. Previous polls have focused on holiday stress, HPV vaccine, legalization of recreational marijuana, vaccines and supplements, antibiotic use and misuse, screen time and others. For more information about the polls, please visit southnassau.org/sn/truth-in-medicine.

Courtesy Mount Sinai South Nassau; compiled by Mike Smollins