Implementing equity principles in resource allocation is challenging. In one approach, some US states implemented race-based prioritisation of COVID-19 vaccines in response to vast racial inequities in COVID-19 outcomes, while others used place-based allocation. In a nationally representative survey of n=2067 US residents, fielded in mid-April 2021 (before the entire US population became eligible for vaccines), we explored the public acceptability of race-based prioritisation compared with place-based prioritisation, by offering vaccines to harder hit zip codes before residents of other zip codes. We found that in general, a majority of respondents supported the place-based approach, and a substantial proportion supported the race-based plan. Support was higher among Democrats compared with Republicans. All US residents became eligible for vaccines on 19 April 2021 but as of this writing, equitable uptake of vaccines remains urgent not only for first doses for adults but also for boosters and for children. Our findings also provide a benchmark for future pandemic planning that racial and social justice in vaccine allocation are salient considerations for the public. The findings may furthermore be of interest to policy makers designing vaccine allocation frameworks in countries with comparable health disparities across social, ethnic and racial groups, and more broadly, for those exploring ways of promoting equity in resource allocation outside of a pandemic setting.