Jul 29, 2022 - Health

1 in 5 Americans fear they'll get monkeypox

Share of Americans who say they are worried about contracting COVID-19 or monkeypox in the next three months
Data: Annenberg Public Policy Center; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

About 20% of Americans are afraid they'll soon contract monkeypox, but there are still some significant holes in the public's understanding of the virus, according to a new survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The big picture: These early stages of monkeypox outbreaks aren't nearly as dangerous as early COVID outbreaks were, but some of the challenges for public health officials — like educating people about a virus they're not familiar with, and mobilizing vaccination efforts — are similar.

By the numbers: One in five Americans are worried about getting monkeypox in the next three months, the Annenberg survey found.

  • Nearly half are unsure whether monkeypox is less contagious than COVID, although 69% correctly identified the way it usually spreads (through close contact with an infected person).
  • Two-thirds said they either don't think there's a vaccine for monkeypox, or aren’t sure. (There is a vaccine. The Biden administration said Thursday that it's allocating another 786,000 doses, on top of the more than 340,000 it distributed this month.)
  • Women were more worried about contracting monkeypox than men, even though the overwhelming majority of cases in the U.S. have been among men.

Between the lines: Memories of false assurances and mixed messaging about the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic are factoring into public sentiment on monkeypox, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg center.

  • "There is some suspicion scientists don’t know what they know, so that translates to higher worry," Jamieson told Axios.

Misinformation and conspiracy theories are also a problem.

  • 12% of respondents in the Annenberg survey said they believe the monkeypox virus was probably or definitely created in a lab; 21% said they were not sure whether it was caused by exposure to a 5G signal.
  • The fact that the virus has so far spread primarily among men who have sex with men has also fueled widespread perceptions that it's a sexually transmitted infection, which it is not.

What we're watching: Perceptions of risk remain fluid and could shift if monkeypox finds new modes of transmission, or if it continues to affect children.

  • "If kids get it and there's been no contact with individuals at risk, then you have a completely different situation than you have now," Jamieson said.

Methodology: The Annenberg Public Policy Center survey of 1,580 adults was conducted July 12-18. The margin of error is +/- 3.3 percentage points.

Go deeper