Vaccine uptake in the US: Republican ideology may continue to hamper progress


The Covid-19 pandemic was politicized immediately after it began in the US in early 2020. Believing that individual sacrifices are necessary to slow the spread of Covid-19, Democrats have, on average, been more willing to comply with mask mandates and social distancing restrictions, relative to Republicans, who are keener to believe that restrictions limit individual freedom. Republicans tend to see individual freedom as a cornerstone of the American way of life. Vaccination against Covid-19 has similarly become politicized as vaccines have become widely available, with Republicans being generally more hesitant to accept the vaccine than Democrats.

In June, 80% of Democrats had received at least one dose of vaccine, compared to just 49% of Republicans. In early July, 46.7% of Democrats were fully vaccinated, versus just 35% of Republicans. In the 2020 election, President Biden carried 20 of the most-vaccinated states, while Trump won 17 of the 20 least vaccinated states.

It is not immediately obvious why Republicans are generally more hesitant to accept the vaccine. Republicans tend to be older than Democrats, and are less likely to be from ethnic minority backgrounds. White Americans are getting vaccinated at higher rates relative to minority groups, such as Hispanics and African Americans, as are those of the older generation relative to the younger generation. All else equal, it seems as though a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats should be vaccinated.

The party’s tendency to oppose any action that interferes with individual freedom may hamper future efforts

A closer look reveals several factors that explain Republican vaccine hesitancy. First, while most Democrats believe that getting vaccinated is a decision that affects not just the individual but society at large, a majority of Republicans believe that getting vaccinated is the choice of the individual, demonstrating the issues posed by the party’s libertarian ideology on the effort to vaccinate America.

Certain Republicans might chafe at what they perceive as elite condescension towards ordinary Americans who do not want to get vaccinated. Though scientists and doctors have assured Americans that getting vaccinated is safe, many Republicans are still unsure about the safety of vaccinations that were developed at unprecedented. Those wary of getting vaccinated have been targeted by right-wing vaccine misinformation campaigns, leading them to become even more hesitant.

Additionally, about one-third of the Republican party’s voter base is comprised of Evangelical Christians, a demographic that has long had a tense relationship with science and is now a prominent vaccine-hesitant religious sect. 45% of the 41 million white evangelical adults in the U.S. said in February that they would not get vaccinated. While some evangelical leaders have encouraged their congregations to get vaccinated, many have urged their audiences to refuse the vaccine.

The spread of the delta variant in Republican stronghold areas has changed the way some conservative leaders talk about the vaccine

Finally, evidence shows that Americans with higher levels of education are being vaccinated at higher rates than those who are less-educated. Since supporters of the Democrat party tend to have attained higher levels of education than Republicans, vaccine uptake is greater amongst the former. A study conducted by the University of Southern California in February found that education played a major role in determining whether Americans chose to get vaccinated, with 76% of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree already vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated, compared to just 53% of those without a degree.

While Republicans have on average been more hesitant to accept the vaccine than Democrats, the spread of the Delta variant in Republican stronghold areas has changed the way some conservative leaders talk about the vaccine. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, President Trump’s Press Secretary, recently wrote an editorial urging her fellow Arkansans to get vaccinated. The Republican governor of Florida, who signed an executive order in March banning vaccine passports, recently came out in support of vaccines as his state reached the highest case rate per capita in the US. Finally, Steve Doocy, co-host of Fox & Friends, a conservative television programme, said in late July that the vaccine “will save your life”, adding that he believes in “the science of vaccination.”

According to the Washington Post, the vaccination endorsements made by Republicans recently could have a significant impact on the vaccine uptake of Republican party supporters. However, the party’s tendency to oppose any action that interferes with individual freedom may hamper future efforts to implement vaccine passports or provide monetary incentives to people who decide to get vaccinated.

Image: Biden For President via Flickr

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