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Study Results: In a Small Sample of Individuals with SUD, Many are Hesitant to Receive Vaccine

With COVID-19 Vaccine in Sight, New Study Shows Vaccine Hesitancy among Individuals with Substance Use Disorder

North Bethesda, MD, December 16, 2020 -- Addiction Policy Forum conducted interviews with a small sample of individuals with substance use disorders (SUD) and nearly half reported that they are hesitant to take a COVID-19 vaccine, despite research that indicates people with SUD face more severe outcomes from COVID-19 and a higher risk of contracting the SARS- CoV-2 virus.

The interviews were aimed at understanding experiences of individuals currently using substances, receiving treatment for a substance use disorder, and/or in recovery from a SUD during the pandemic, and attitudes around willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine. Interviews with 87 participants were conducted between September 14 and September 27, 2020.

Vaccine Readiness

Nearly half of participants reported that they are unwilling to take a vaccine for COVID-19. Among the approximate half that are willing to take the vaccine, most are willing to take it as soon as it becomes available, and a smaller percentage prefers to wait.

Nearly a quarter of respondents reported that requiring multiple doses of a vaccine would have an effect on their decision to get vaccinated. Several responses referenced to injections as potential triggers for individuals in recovery from a SUD: “Yes it would affect my decision- I was an IV drug user and injection is a huge trigger for me.”

While respondents reported their trust in healthcare providers declined during the pandemic, they cited healthcare providers as still the most trusted sources of information used to inform their health decisions, followed by information shared by family members, and information reported from TV/newspapers.

“Results from this study emphasize the vital role physicians play as an educator and messenger of information to inform patient healthcare decisions, especially among the SUD population.” explained Jessica Hulsey, president of Addiction Policy Forum. “Education is needed to deliver vaccine information to patients, especially to individuals struggling with addiction or in recovery, who experience more severe effects and may be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.”

Impact on Addiction and Recovery

In the study, 2 out of 3 participants report that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their SUD or recovery status. “COVID has negatively affected many individuals receiving treatment or in recovery from addiction” shared Hulsey. “Many shared experiences with relapses and overdoses during the pandemic, struggles with meeting moving online, and disruptions in key services and programs.”

One participant shared: “I relapsed four times during the pandemic and prior to that, I was sober for a year and a half. It's made it a lot more difficult to do the 12-step work because most of that type of stuff is done face to face with a sponsor and with COVID like we're not meeting face to face.” Another individual interviewed shared: “My bigger triggers are boredom and isolation, and so working from home and having to quarantine and isolate myself, it was just like, you know, like jumping into the lion's den.”


The interviews included a total of 87 participants that self-identified as having an active substance use disorder (SUD), in recovery from a SUD and/or currently receiving SUD treatment. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected via one-on-one interviews with trained staff from the Addiction Policy Forum. Participation was voluntary and no identifying information was included in this report. The information gathered as part of this project allows for a greater understanding of their experiences and opinions on addiction-related issues in the context of COVID-19, and gives voice to participants.

This report from the Addiction Policy Forum sheds light on the experiences of individuals currently using substances, receiving treatment for a substance use disorder, and/or in recovery from a substance use disorder during the pandemic, and attitudes around willingness to take a COVID-19 vaccine. This work was supported in part by contract funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


About Addiction Policy Forum

The Addiction Policy Forum is a nationwide nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating addiction as a major health problem. Created to serve patients and families impacted by the disease of addiction, the organization works to end stigma, help patients and families in crisis, improve treatment and prevention, and translate the science around addiction. For more information, visit:



Jessica Hulsey




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