Public attitude toward Covid-19 vaccination: The influence of education, partisanship, biological literacy, and coronavirus understanding


For the majority of American citizens, the Covid-19 outbreak represented the worst public health emergency in their lifetimes. About 12 months after the start of the pandemic, effective vaccines were developed and made accessible, yet a sizable portion of American adults rejected or resisted immunization. In general, vaccine acceptance and uptake remains one of the most important public health concerns in many countries. Vaccine hesitancy—often fueled by misinformation surrounding the importance, safety, or effectiveness of the vaccine—poses a major barrier to achieving herd immunity. Understanding the elements that contribute to vaccine uptake, resistance, or reluctance is crucial. Since the tuberculosis pandemic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, public policy debate in the United States had not focused on new issues about vaccination and communicable diseases until the Covid-19 pandemic. The political division of opinions about Covid-19 and Covid-19 immunizations is uncommon and calls for some explanation given the prior experience of Americans with infectious and fatal diseases. It’s critical to comprehend the reasons for acceptance and reluctance toward Covid-19 immunization given the significant changes that have occurred in the United States since the tuberculosis pandemic.

In a recent study published in The FASEB Journal, University of Michigan researchers, Professor Jon Miller, Professor Mark Ackerman, Assistant professor Belén Laspra, Assistant professor Carmelo Polino and PhD candidate Jordan Huffaker sought to understand the role of education, age, gender, race, education, partisanship, religious fundamentalism, biological literacy, and understanding of the coronavirus in predicting individual intention to take the Covid-19 vaccine. They did this by using a national address-based probability sample of American adults in 2020 and a structural equation model. Their analysis aimed to discover and measure the characteristics related to a positive desire to be immunized against Covid-19 and hesitancy toward or rejection of a Covid-19 vaccine using data from two national surveys of a probability sample of American adults.

The current model emphasizes the critical role that education, biological literacy, and knowledge of the coronavirus play in the formation of a pro-vaccination attitude. Their findings indicate that while many American adults have been affected by the politicization of the coronavirus pandemic, a sizable majority have sought out scientific information from print and digital sources and have been able to use their innate biological literacy and up-to-date coronavirus knowledge to agree to receive the coronavirus vaccine. On scientific topics like the Covid-19 epidemic, this model illustrates the structure of conservative republicanism and religious fanaticism. Additionally, their approach places the adoption of modern ideological partisanship after the formation of religious beliefs. This indicates that people are more likely to acquire religious views and ideals when they are still children, though the model also shows the impact of intervening life experiences. Researchers have identified a complex network of life course influences that can predict an individual’s intent to receive the Covid-19 vaccination by taking into account all relevant aspects over the course of a person’s life. Education and biological literacy are significant baseline factors that will only grow in importance in the coming decades. Their findings that a sizeable portion of American people appreciate expertise and consider it when making decisions about their own lives and public policies suggests that these initiatives have positively impacted American politics and society.

In conclusion, these findings show that significant and ongoing investment under biological and scientific education pays off in dire circumstances. The authors show that religious fundamentalism and conservative partisanship were substantial negative predictors of intent to vaccinate, while education, biological literacy, and knowledge of the coronavirus were strong positive predictors of willingness to vaccinate. The scientific community should find encouragement in these findings.

About the author

Jon Miller has measured the public understanding of science and technology in the United States for the last three decades, and has examined the factors associated with the development of attitudes toward science. He directed biennial national surveys for the National Science Board for 20 years, the results of which were reported in Science and Engineering Indicators. He pioneered the definition and measurement of civic scientific literacy and his approach to the public understanding of science has been replicated in more than 40 countries.

Jon is the founder and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Life (LSAL). The LSAL began tracking approximately 5,000 public school students in grades 7 and 10 in 1987 and continues to collect data from the same individuals once each year.

Jon is the Director of the International Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. He has published four books — Citizenship in an Age of Science (Pergamon Press, 1980), The American People and Science Policy (Pergamon Press, 1983); Public Perceptions of Science and Technology: A comparative study of the European Union, the United States, Japan, and Canada (Foundation BBV, Madrid, 1997); and Biomedical Communications: Purposes, audiences, and strategies (Academic Press, 2001) – and more than 50 journal articles and book chapters. He is a member of the editorial board of the journals Public Understanding of Science (Sage) and Science Popularization (Beijing).

Jon is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and served two six-year terms on the AAAS Committee on the Public Understanding of Science and Technology. He was a Sigma Xi National Lecturer for two years between 1989 and 1991. He is a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Council on Science and Technology.

Jon’s expertise in the measurement and analysis of the public understanding of science and technology is recognized internationally. He served as President of the International Council for the Comparative Study of the Public Understanding of Science and Technology for six years. He has served as a consultant to the European Commission; the National Institute of Science and Technology Policy in Japan; the China Association for Science and Technology; the Council of Canadian Academies; and the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Research Council in the U.S.


Miller JD, Ackerman MS, Laspra B, Polino C, Huffaker JS. Public attitude toward Covid19 vaccination: The influence of education, partisanship, biological literacy, and coronavirus understanding. The FASEB Journal. 2022 Jul;36(7):e22382.

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