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A recent NPR/Marist poll found that one in four Americans said they would refuse a coronavirus vaccine outright if offered. Another 5% are “undecided” about whether they would get the shot. Although the numbers were highest for Republican men and residents of rural areas, there were still a significant number of people across all ages and demographic groups who claim they will say “no.”

Now some researchers are increasingly worried that this reticence will be enough to prevent the nation from reaching what’s known as herd immunity, the point at which the coronavirus can no longer spread easily through the population and transmission peters out. Reaching high levels of vaccination would mean new outbreaks of the coronavirus would die down quickly, as opposed to growing and spreading.

The numbers who may refuse the vaccine remain potentially too high to contain a respiratory virus such as SARS-CoV-2, which requires a large segment of the population to be immune. Nobody knows exactly how large, but based on other diseases, researchers believe it is far above the current 32% of the U.S. population that’s gotten at least one shot to date.

“What most of us want is a safe return to something that looks more normal,” says Samuel Scarpino, who models the coronavirus outbreak at Northeastern University. “That to me means 80% to 85%, probably, vaccinated.”


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