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73% of Americans Flunked ValuePenguin’s COVID-19 Vaccine Quiz

73% of Americans Flunked ValuePenguin’s COVID-19 Vaccine Quiz

Survey reveals widespread misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine, from eligibility to effectiveness.
Senior getting vaccinated against COVID-19
Senior getting vaccinated against COVID-19 Source: Getty Images

As states continue their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts, ValuePenguin decided to test Americans' general knowledge about the COVID-19 vaccine. We quizzed the public's know-how on the vaccine's distribution, effectiveness and cost. Nearly three-quarters of respondents flunked the test, with an average grade of 50%.

The answers we received also revealed a sense of confusion about what happens after getting a vaccine. For example, 24% don't believe they would need to follow safety recommendations after getting a vaccine, though medical professionals suggest otherwise as there are still a lot of unknowns about whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus.

Finally, ValuePenguin's quiz showed that a large number of Americans are still on the fence about getting the vaccine once it's available to them. More than half said they absolutely wouldn't get vaccinated or that they were still making up their mind. If too few people are inoculated, the vaccine loses its effectiveness.

Key findings

Americans scored an average of 50% on ValuePenguin's vaccine quiz

While ValuePenguin didn't observe a statistically significant difference in the scores for those who plan on getting vaccinated compared to those who don't plan to get the vaccine, some demographic groups were likely to do better than others. Both groups' scores aligned with the average for all Americans.

Women scored better than men. On average, women got 58% of the questions right about the COVID-19 vaccine. Men, on the other hand, answered 50% correctly. Additionally, baby boomers answered the most correctly of any generation at 58% on average, while Gen Zers answered the least correctly at 42%.

Fact about the COVID-19 vaccine
Percentage who answered incorrectly
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is leaving it up to providers and patients who are breastfeeding or pregnant to decide whether to get vaccinated70%
Children younger than 16 aren't eligible to get vaccinated yet66%
A fully effective inoculation entails two shots of the same vaccine53%
The vaccine went through the same regulations and checkpoints as others45%
The vaccine is nearly 95% effective after both shots have been given40%
Patients should get their second shot three to four weeks after the first35%
It's still recommended that people wear masks and socially distance after getting vaccinated24%
The virus itself, not the vaccine, can cause loss of taste or smell24%
The virus itself, not the vaccine, can cause shortness of breath20%

More than half of the people we surveyed didn't know that an effective dose of the COVID-19 vaccine requires an individual to receive two shots of the same vaccine. Twenty percent believed that a person could be fully vaccinated from just one shot. Another 33% thought that as long as they received two shots of a vaccine — even a dose of two different vaccines — they would be inoculated.

Four in 10 people thought that either the vaccine was nearly 95% effective after one shot or that it wasn't close to effective after a full dose.

There was some confusion about who should get the vaccine and when. The CDC has stated that it's up to providers and patients who are breastfeeding or pregnant to decide whether to get vaccinated. However, 43% believed that the CDC explicitly recommended against these groups receiving the vaccine, and another 27% thought that the agency had recommended it.

Additionally, 35% didn't know that the second dose is supposed to be administered three to four weeks after the first dose. The largest group of this subset believed the second dose comes days after the first, while fewer thought it came two months or even one year after the first.

bar chart Baby Boomers 58%, Millenials 50%, HenZ 42%

Many respondents were confused about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, and some expressed concern about its safety

The CDC states that even those who have been vaccinated should continue to wear their masks and maintain a safe distance from others to avoid potentially spreading the virus, even if the vaccine would prevent them from displaying symptoms. Despite this warning, 24% believe that it's unnecessary to wear masks or maintain social distancing after getting vaccinated.

Some people expressed reservations about the safety of the vaccine itself. Just about one in eight people believe that it's extremely likely they will have an allergic reaction to the vaccine, while only 28% believe that they won't have any allergic reaction. In reality, the CDC has found that just 11 in 1 million had an allergic reaction during an initial round of vaccines.

Nearly half of respondents don't think that the COVID-19 vaccines went through the same regulations and approval checkpoints that other vaccines go through before getting certified by the government. This is generally false. While the Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet uniformly approved a COVID-19 vaccine, the government did give vaccines emergency use authorization after they passed clinical trials — a typical test for safe pharmaceutical products.

chart Millenials 77%, Gen X 76%, Baby Boomers 65%

There was some confusion about what types of negative reactions the vaccinations might cause. Most people might expect arm pain and swelling at the injection site. In fact, most people (58%) believe that muscular or joint pain may be common after the vaccine. However, 24% think that loss of taste or smell is a common side effect of the vaccine. Another 20% think that shortness of breath is common.

Which side effects do people believe are the most common results of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Many people mistook symptoms of COVID-19 for side effects of the vaccines.

Side effect
Muscular or joint pain58%
Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea24%
Loss of taste or smell24%
Sore throat22%
Shortness of breath20%

Respondents could select more than one side effect.

Despite the raging pandemic, more than one-fifth of Americans say they won't get vaccinated against COVID-19

When we asked respondents whether they planned to get the COVID-19 vaccine, more than half wouldn't commit. Thirty percent said they were still deciding, while 21% said they definitely wouldn't get vaccinated.

According to past research conducted by ValuePenguin, these newest responses signal an erosion of those on the fence and an increase in those who have made a decision about inoculation — one way or the other. In our survey fielded in July, 36% said they would definitely get vaccinated. At that time, 14% said they definitely wouldn't get vaccinated after a vaccine was developed.

In our most recent survey, 60% of men said they would definitely get vaccinated (up from 44%) and 16% wouldn't (up from 11%). As for women, 40% said they would (up from 29%) and 26% wouldn't (up from 18%).

A higher percentage of people who identify as Democrats and Republicans said they plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19 than committed in July 2020.

The largest change of heart occurred in those who are part of Generations X and Z and those who are baby boomers. Compared to July responses, 60% of baby boomers (up from 29%) said they would definitely get the COVID-19 vaccine once it was available. Meanwhile, 30% of people in Generation Z and 25% in Generation X now say they definitely won't get the vaccine (up from 16% and 11%, respectively).

We also asked consumers who either wouldn’t get or hadn't yet decided whether they would get the vaccine if they would change their mind, as long as it meant a decrease in health insurance costs. Although there's not been any indication that this could be a policy going forward, it may be a useful way for lawmakers to change the minds of some of the most reluctant: 16% said they would get vaccinated if it translated to lower insurance costs and another 49% were open to the idea.

Some people may miss out on the vaccine due to confusion about cost

More than half of consumers know the vaccine is free to consumers regardless of whether they have insurance. However, ValuePenguin's survey found that 33% believe that uninsured Americans will have to pay for the vaccine out of pocket. Meanwhile, 11% think that everyone will have to pay — regardless of whether they have health insurance coverage.

It's free to get a COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of whether the person has health insurance. The only way that someone may see a charge after receiving the vaccine would be if they got a dose as part of a regular checkup.


ValuePenguin commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,550 consumers, fielded Jan. 8-11, 2021. The sample base was proportioned to represent the overall population, and all responses were reviewed by researchers to ensure quality control.

We defined generations as the following ages in 2021:

  • Generation Z: 18 to 24
  • Millennial: 25 to 40
  • Generation X: 41 to 55
  • Baby boomer: 56 to 75

The survey also included responses from the silent generation (ages 76 and older). However, their responses weren't included in the generational breakdowns due to the low sample size for that age group.