Poll: Over 1 billion people worldwide unwilling to get COVID-19 vaccine, global herd immunity at risk

A recent Gallup poll estimated that more than 1 billion people across the globe were unwilling to get the COVID-19 vaccine during the first year of the pandemic, making it harder for the world to reach herd immunity.

Researchers surveyed 116 countries and calculated only 68% of adults were willing to get inoculated, still below the 70-90% scientists believe is needed to reach herd immunity.

The survey also revealed that 32% of adults, or 1.3 billion people, said they would not take the vaccine.

When broken down by individual countries, Myanmar had the highest percentage of adults willing to get the vaccine at 96%. Kazakhstan had the lowest at 25%. Overall, researchers said at least 38 countries would reach the minimum 70% for herd immunity.

The study pointed out the people living in Eastern Europe and former Soviet states were the least inclined to get the vaccine.

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Gallup also pointed out that the study was conducted during 2020 when a vaccine wasn’t readily available and countries were in different stages of the pandemic. The survey’s authors believe attitudes may have shifted since then as in the case of the United States. The 2020 World Poll showed only 53% of Americans were willing to get the vaccine. In March 2021, that number increased to 74%.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 130 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 39.2% of the total US population.

The concept of "herd immunity" has been a goal since the onset of the pandemic. The term describes when enough people have immunity against COVID-19 — either from vaccination or a past infection — to stop the uncontrolled spread.

However, some US health officials believe herd immunity is unlikely. The New York Times reported that the reason is that the virus is mutating at a faster rate than vaccine jabs are being given. Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University, told the paper that the virus is "unlikely to go away."

In recent days, U.S. health officials and the White House have shifted away from setting a target percentage for the U.S. to reach herd immunity, and instead are focusing on getting as many vaccines into arms as possible amid sagging demand. Doing so will help lower virus cases, and in turn, restore a more recognizable normal for Americans, experts say.

RELATED: Biden administration takes on vaccine hesitancy with coalition of community, religious, celebrity partners

But the Gallup poll revealed that vaccine hesitancy still remains a problem across the globe.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky previously said the agency is working to educate people about the science, data and safety of vaccines in order to combat vaccine hesitancy.

"We believe and know that the science moved quickly. We’ve enrolled 100,000 people in these trials and the science stood on the shoulders of years and years of work before to be able to deliver these vaccines," Walensky told reporters in April during a virtual news conference.

"If people are worried about the side effects, we can convey the data of over 200 million vaccine doses and the safety and the scrutiny of that safety," she continued. "So we need to meet people where they are and understand why they might be hesitant and then give them the information that combats that hesitancy."

President Joe Biden also set a new goal of delivering at least one dose of vaccine to 70% of adult Americans by Independence Day and fully vaccinating at least 160 million by then.

The Biden administration even formed a coalition of community, religious and celebrity partners to promote COVID-19 shots. It’s called the COVID-19 Community Corps. The Department of Health and Human Services said Americans can expect to see ads on television centered on the message of "We Can Do This."

Around the globe, some Africans are hesitating to get COVID-19 vaccines amid concerns about their safety, alarming public health officials as some countries start to destroy thousands of doses that expired before use.

Vaccine-related suspicions have been spread widely on social media, driven partly by a general lack of trust in authorities. Uganda’s health minister had to refute allegations she faked receiving a shot, even posting a video of herself getting the jab on Twitter, along with the admonition: "Please stop spreading fake news!"

Austin Demby, Sierra Leone’s health minister, told reporters last week that a third of the 96,000 doses the country received in March will likely not be used before they expire, citing a lack of urgency among some people who decided that COVID-19 is "not as bad as Ebola," which ravaged the country several years ago.

FOX News, The Associated Press, Jordan Smith and Kelly Hayes contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.