Cases (and fatalities) are on the rise, but 4 in 10 Jerseyans say they don’t want vaccine

If you’re looking for a story that has a bunch of numbers and statistics that can be called into question, you’ve found it.

The COVID-19 metrics in New Jersey continue to rise. On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Murphy reported 4,060 new COVID-19 cases — the third time in four days that the state has topped the 4,000 mark.

Fatalities also are up. Murphy reported 38 on Tuesday, the highest single-day total since July 11. Though, it must be noted, not all 38 occurred in the past 24 hours.

Some will argue that the number of cases is artificially high due to an increased amount of testing — some will question how the number can top 4,000 on three out of four days, but be closer to 2,000 on the other.

No matter how you look at it, this much can’t be argued: Cases are way up since the summer.

The good news? For the second time in 10 days, there was an incredibly positive result around a vaccine trial. On Monday, Moderna reported a nearly 95% efficacy rate.

That being said, a more surprising number came out Tuesday.

According to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, approximately 4 in 10 New Jerseyans — depending on how you ask the question — said they “probably” or “definitely” would not get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Among individuals reluctant to get vaccinated, 80% cited a concern about side effects and 82% cited the need for more information about how the vaccine works as “major reasons” for their resistance. Fewer respondents cite not feeling they need it (a major reason for 25%, and minor reason for 23%) or the potential cost (a major reason for 15% and minor reason for 22%).

We only have one reason to call these poll results into question: The poll was conducted before the recent Pfizer and Moderna reports were made public.

Would that change people’s minds? Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, said it’s not clear.

“With the recent positive news from Pfizer and Moderna, it is likely that public opinion on immunization will continue to shift and evolve,” she said “But, right now, a large portion of New Jerseyans are still wary, which makes any future messaging encouraging vaccination that much more important.”

Words are important, too.

The proportion of those who say they would “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated varies depending on how the vaccine is described. When framed as a “first-generation” vaccine, 17% say they would “definitely,” and 32% say they would “probably” get vaccinated. The numbers increase to 20% “definitely,” and 33% “probably” when asked simply about a “vaccine.” Respondents are most enthusiastic — 36% “definitely” and 24% “probably” — when it is described as “safe and effective.”

“We know that how something is worded or framed makes a difference in how people respond,” Koning said. “The more the vaccine is described with some sense of certainty, the more agreeable residents are to getting it.”

A sense of certainty — or normalcy? Wouldn’t that be nice. But just when will it feel that way again?

Don’t worry, there are numbers for that, too.

Vaccine or no vaccine, New Jerseyans do not see the Garden State returning to normal anytime soon, according to Koenig. Forty-two percent feel New Jersey will not be back to normal until six months to a year from now. Another 30% feel it will take longer. Twenty-three percent, on the other hand, believe things will be better within the next six months.