Apr 19, 2021 - Health

When vaccine hesitancy becomes political

Data: CDC and New York Times; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The counties with the most vaccine-hesitant residents generally also voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by large margins, whereas the counties with the lowest levels of hesitancy generally also had fewer Trump voters.

Why it matters: Your politics don't have anything to do with whether you're vulnerable to the coronavirus if you remain unvaccinated.

Driving the news: More than half of U.S. adults have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, a remarkable milestone.

  • But in some states, appointments are going unfilled and unused doses are starting to pile up — potentially a sign that demand is decreasing.
  • Around one-fifth of Americans say they definitely won't get a vaccine or only will if required to, and another 17% say they want to "wait and see" before getting a shot, per KFF.

The big picture: The groups most likely to say they definitely won't get a vaccine are Republicans and rural residents.

  • But experts caution that it's important not to oversimplify the narrative. For example, many ruby-red Southern states have large Black populations as well as white Republicans.
  • Black Americans are among the most likely groups to say they want to "wait and see" before getting the vaccine, and they may also face access barriers.

Between the lines: Plenty of other American adults who haven't yet gotten their shots are planning to — they just don't feel particularly urgent about it. Others are still on the fence.

  • Overuse of the "vaccine hesitancy" label could end up backfiring.
  • “What I'm really worried about is building up this identity of, ‘if you're a Republican, you don’t want the vaccine.’ I think a) that’s not correct and b) it's really, really harmful,” said Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.
  • And conflating slow vaccination rates, high hesitancy rates and political leanings may paper over access issues. “It could be that people who believe in Trump and voted for Trump don’t want to get vaccinated. It could also be that those places did a lousy job making vaccines available," Jha said.

What we're watching: The federal government is currently allocating vaccines to states based on population. This strategy may no longer make the most sense, although vaccine supply is likely not going to be a problem in any state in the near-term future.

  • “Right now, some states need more vaccines, and other states need more help with getting the vaccines they have out. In two weeks every state will need help getting the vaccines they have out," Jha said.
  • “By early May, the eager crowd will be done everywhere. I would say the federal government should start to help states solve that," he added.
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