Nov. 9, 2020 — Americans are putting their faith in a vaccine and public health experts to “mark the end” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., a new WebMD poll finds.
The poll of 1,000 respondents found 27% said a vaccine that prevents or reduces the chance of infection would signal the end of the pandemic. And 24% said they’re waiting for public health officials to declare that it’s over.
The results come as people have increasingly questioned the safety of a COVID-19 vaccine and as public health experts have been criticized for promoting measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.
“There’s so much misinformation, and that can really harm our ability to stop this pandemic,” said John Whyte, MD, chief medical officer at WebMD. “It’s encouraging to see that readers have trust in the process — both in producing a safe and effective vaccine, and in listening to the public health messages that can help keep them safe in the meantime.”
At the same time, the poll finds that readers don’t see an end to the pandemic in the near future. The U.S. reported record numbers of cases in recent days and today will top 10 million overall — the most of any country worldwide.
Thirty percent say the pandemic will end in more than a year in the U.S. and 16% estimated seven months to a year.
Another 15% said the pandemic will come to a close in less than 6 months, while another 12% said it will “never” end. The remaining 26% said they aren’t sure.
“People are being realistic in understanding that the virus is not going to go away anytime soon,” said Whyte. “They also understand that a vaccine will not immediately bring an end to the pandemic.”
Four vaccine candidates are in final stages of testing in the U.S., and drug company leaders have said that safety and efficacy results may be available by the end of this year. First, the FDA would approve an emergency use authorization for initial doses of the vaccine, and full approval would likely occur in early 2021.
Even after one is approved, it will take months to get enough vaccine to everyone who wants it, and there’s no guarantee how well it will work at preventing infection.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in October that even with a vaccine, public health precautions such as social distancing and wearing face masks could continue through the end of 2021 and into 2022.
“It’s not going to be the way it was with polio and measles, where you get a vaccine, case closed, it’s done,” Fauci said during a virtual meeting with doctors and students at Thomas Jefferson University. “It’s going to be public health measures that linger for months and months.”
With the pandemic now in its ninth month, the U.S. has reported more than 237,000 deaths. The country logged its highest daily record yet, with more than 132,000 cases on Friday. With a surge in cases throughout most states, hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise as well, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Readers seemed prepared to acknowledge it will last much longer. Those over age 55 were more likely to say the pandemic will last for more than a year, though the response was the top choice among all age groups. Women were also more likely to say that the pandemic will stretch for more than a year, though men — and those who preferred not to share their gender — also said the pandemic will last for some time.
For the question about what would mark the end of the pandemic, readers were allowed to choose multiple responses. Most selected several choices:
- 27%: When we have a vaccine that prevents or reduces the chance of infection
- 24% When public health experts say it’s over
- 10%: When service businesses no long require masks and social distancing
- 9%: When other countries end travel restrictions for U.S. residents
- 8%: When entertainment venues reopen or return to full capacity
- 7%: When all students can return to in-person class
- 2%: When the president says it’s over
And 10% said they weren’t sure.