Vaccine skepticism poses huge challenge for US recovery

By Mitchell Blatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, April 24, 2021
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A COVID-19 vaccine center in Frisco, Texas, the United States, on Feb. 19, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

Former President Donald Trump said on April 19 that he'd been asked to film an advertisement promoting America's coronavirus vaccination campaign because "a lot of our people don't want to take the vaccine."

It's ironic. Trump had claimed credit for the development of the vaccines, the first of which was approved for use in December 2020, because some received funding through a government program. Now that the vaccines are available for mass distribution, however, many of his supporters – both ordinary citizens in small towns and politicians and pundits in DC – have soured on vaccination. 

Conservative columnist Michael Goodwin called vaccines "Trump's greatest achievement as president" in an article published on Fox News. Trump himself called them a "great miracle" at the time and this past month called them "Trumpcines."

How things have changed since Trump left office and was replaced by a liberal Democrat as president. Now the conservative media outlets are sewing distrust in the vaccines. In the span of just a few days, Fox News has broadcast multiple pundits saying vaccines don't work and that they will not get vaccinated. Tucker Carlson, the network's highest-rated anchor, said: "Maybe it doesn't work, and they're just not telling you that." 

What gives? Are conservative pundits really this dense, or are they playing to their viewers? It's a bit of both.

American conservatives are less likely to believe in the efficacy of vaccines and scientific expertise generally. Even before the coronavirus, a 2019 survey by Gallup found that only 79% of Republicans supported vaccinating their children against widespread diseases, compared to 92% of Democrats.

Residents of conservative rural counties are also more likely to express "hesitancy" about getting vaccinated, analysis published by Axios found. These are the same places where people were less likely to wear masks over the past year. Driving through rural Wyoming last summer, I found that people in a gas station there gave me strange looks for wearing a mask.

Hence, it's no surprise Fox News' Tucker Carlson decided to change his mind about masks in the opposite direction of most educated Americans – going from claiming they worked, to opposing them as more data came in about how well they worked. The media plays its audience for ratings.

What impact will this have on America's vaccination campaign? The easy work is being done now. Those who want the vaccine are anxiously seeking it out. Some are even crossing state lines or driving hours to counties where the lack of demand from anti-vaxxers is leaving surplus vaccines in the fridge. But will vaccinating everyone who wants it be enough to achieve herd immunity? It is much harder to convince conspiracy theorists to take the shot than it is to convince those eagerly seeking it out.

Considering that the coronavirus has behaved quite differently from many other viruses, we don't really know. Many experts originally suggested it would take 60% to 70% coverage to create herd immunity. However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has since stated that it might take 70% to 85% coverage, while acknowledging that this is a crude estimate.

According to the most recent survey by Gallup, 74% of Americans say they are willing to be vaccinated. But that is the percentage for the whole country, and the rate of vaccine opposition is not uniform across the U.S. If the rate in some towns and communities is much lower than 70%, the coronavirus could continue to spread among those areas. The true level required for herd immunity is unknown, of course, so we will have to wait and see on that. 

There are some immediate problems that anti-vaxxers and right-wing politicians are already causing, however. They have pushed a narrative that masks are unnecessary if you are vaccinated, which is startlingly wrong for multiple reasons. Most notably, a minority of Americans have been vaccinated so far, and there is no way to check at the supermarket, for example, whether someone has been vaccinated or not. American anti-maskers have lied about having medical conditions that prevented them from wearing masks. It therefore stands to reason that they are going to lie about having been vaccinated.

Meanwhile, some states have already lifted mask mandates and other anti-coronavirus measures at a time when the daily total of new cases continues to rise in the U.S. One conservative representative, Jim Jordan, sanctimoniously bemoaned that there will never be "freedom" in the U.S. There won't be if the same people who opposed masks oppose vaccines, too, and jump the gun by reopening too early, allowing new outbreaks to surge before the problem is solved.

Mitchell Blatt is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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