‘Why would you not?’ Alarm as Republican men say they won’t get Covid vaccine
A recent poll reported 49% of Republican men saying they won’t get the shot as mixed messaging persists among conservatives A protester holds a sign against lockdown, masks, Covid testing and vaccines in Sacramento, California, on 23 May 2020. Photograph: Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock Nothing will change Ron Holloway’s mind when it comes to the Covid-19 vaccine: he’s not going to get it. “I just feel that God created us, made our bodies in such a wonderful way that we can pretty much do our own immunization,” Holloway, 75, told The Guardian. “We’re equipped to do that in most cases. I just don’t see the need for it.” Holloway is among potentially millions of Republican-identifying men who say they don’t plan on getting the coronavirus vaccine. According to a recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, 49% of Republican men told pollsters that they wouldn’t get the jab; the poll is among recent analyses claiming that vaccine hesitancy is highest among this demographic. These data have raised the alarm for disease experts, who have struggled to combat Covid-19 amid the sharp politicization of public health policies, such as often Republican opposition to mask mandates and business regulations and the frequent touting of conspiracy theories. “How such a large proportion of a certain group of people would not want to get vaccinated merely because of political considerations … it makes absolutely no sense,” the top US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci said recently. “What is the problem here? This is a vaccine that is going to be life-saving for millions of people.” While some powerful Republicans have urged people to get the vaccine mixed messaging persists among some conservatives. The Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently criticized the Biden administration’s vaccine outreach efforts, saying: “If you want them to take the vaccine, don’t berate them, don’t issue more commands, calm their fears by rationally explaining the benefits and risks of the vaccine.” The de Beaumont Foundation, an organization aimed at improving public health, conducted a focus group on 13 March to understand vaccine opposition among Republicans. The group was composed of 19 members, men and women, who identified as Republican. The participants selected had “responded ‘maybe’ or ‘probably not’ when asked if they will get a Covid vaccine”. Group leader Frank Luntz, a veteran Republican pollster, asked participants: “When I say Covid-19 vaccination, vaccine … what do you think of first?” One man replied: “A miracle, albeit suspicious.” One man said “rushed”, while another said “experimental”. One man said: “Don’t hold my freedom hostage.” Alec Tyson, an associate director of research at Pew Research Center, said that there’s a “similar dynamic” between the partisan gap on beliefs about Covid-19’s threat to public health and attitudes toward vaccinations. “Republicans have been much less concerned than Democrats” about Covid-19’s risk to public health, Tyson said. “Vaccination intent is one of the main correlates to that attitude.” While researching vaccine intent, Tyson said Pew researchers asked those who weren’t currently planning on getting the vaccine why. Among those who weren’t planning on getting the vaccine, Tyson said that Republicans in this group “are more likely to tell us they don’t think they need it than are Democrats who aren’t planning to get it”. Panayiota Kendeou, professor of educational psychology and Guy Bond chair in reading at the University of Minnesota, said that while some vaccine hesitancy was “predictable”, some was “also unique to the kind of political climate, the way the pandemic has been handled in the US and all over the world, and the politics that have muddied the waters a little bit in terms of decision-making and the consequences of our decisions”. Kendeou explained that vaccine hesitancy has traditionally been fostered by a number of known factors and said “the primary one is our perceived risk for an infection”. Perceived side effects are also key when people weigh whether to get vaccines. “In the content of the Covid-19 vaccine, those perceived health risks in terms of actually getting the disease, and also having fears about the side effects of the vaccine, have gained political orientation,” Kendeou said. “So we’ve seen, for example in the US, certain groups being more or less afraid of the Covid-19 virus and cast doubts on the seriousness of the pandemic. Of course, that translated into the kind of vaccine hesitancy breakdown that we see being reported.” Loren Anthony Williams – a self-described “moderate conservative” who says “by no means am I a fervent, die-hard Trumper” – responded “probably not” when asked if he’d get the Covid-19 vaccine. Williams, who works in the medicinal marijuana industry, said he is not an “anti-vaxxer or anything like that” but remains skeptical, saying the jab “was rushed with a healthy dose of politics involved, because Trump was trying to get it out there in November before the election”. Asked later about the politicization, Williams explained: “I think it was very much politicized by Trump. Naming it Operation Warp Speed, doing all he could to get it out there before the election.” While Trump “did have the wellbeing of the country in mind”, Williams said, he also had political goals. Williams said his personal political beliefs did not play a role in his skepticism over the vaccine. I’m no chemist or biologist, maybe if I knew how it was made and was in it, I might change my mind Loren Anthony Williams The 35-year-old Detroit resident also said: “I don’t need it, because I’m a fairly healthy younger person, and if I caught coronavirus, I’d do well without the vaccine. I’d overcome it on my own. “For older people or people who are at risk, I wouldn’t discourage them from getting the vaccine. That’s their choice. It probably would benefit them a lot more because they’re at higher risk,” Williams continued, saying his elderly parents had already received the vaccine. Asked if anything might sway his opinion, Williams said “maybe”. “Because I’m no chemist or biologist, maybe if I knew how it was made and was in it, I might change my mind.” However, some Republicans are skeptical of statistics on vaccine hesitancy among men in the party. Andrew Bilardello, who leads a Republican club in The Villages, a sprawling retirement community in Florida, told The Guardian: “The majority of the people here are registered Republicans, and the majority of the people here are getting the vaccine.” Bilardello, a retired police chief, pointed out that the Florida Republican governor Ron DeSantis had visited the area last week and touted the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine, and that he recently announced lowering the vaccination age eligibility. Bilardello, 63, said he’s going to get the Johnson & Johnson jab. “I drive by the vaccination sites and I gotta tell you: every day I go by, there’s lines of people to get the vaccine,” Bilardello said. Everybody cares, everybody wears masks … For the majority of the people here in the Villages, they’re taking the pandemic here very seriously.” Joe Martin, a Republican in Georgia, said he hadn’t seen vaccine hesitancy among his peers. He said that people who didn’t get it were having access issues, but weren’t hesitant. “All the people I know, we’re all going out to dinner because we’ve had the shot,” said Martin, 77. “Once you get the shot, you’re free to socialize and do all kinds of things. Why would you not want to?” Despite reported levels of heightened vaccine hesitancy or resistance, there is evidence that minds can change. Dr Tom Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provided five facts about Covid-19 to participants in de Beaumont’s virtual focus group. Among the facts: more than 90% of doctors who were offered the vaccine have decided to get it. When the focus group ended, 16 said they were more willing to get the vaccine, the organization said.