Oct 7, 2021 - Health

A look at who is still not vaccinated against COVID

COVID-19 vaccinated and unvaccinated demographics
Data: KFF September 2021 Vaccine Monitor; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Conservative media sometimes blame the problem of the unvaccinated on people of color, but the data show vaccine resistance is mostly about red America and younger adults now.

Why it matters: The numbers show a much different story about where we still need to be focusing our vaccination efforts.

By the numbers: 59% of the unvaccinated are Republicans, 64% are white and 46% have a high school education or less. More than half of the unvaccinated live in suburbs with another 27% living in rural areas.

  • By contrast, 14% are Black, 16% are Hispanic, and 27% live in cities.  

Between the lines: These unvaccinated adults tend towards COVID denialism and often see their decision not to get the vaccination as an expression of their personal freedom.

  • When they do get vaccinated, persuasion and information are not moving them nearly as much as seeing family members, friends and neighbors get sick, go to the hospital, and die, and seeing local news reports about their local hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients.
  • Employer mandates are another reality influencing their behavior as companies who have instituted them report their employees are choosing paychecks over their vaccine resistance.   

We can't know what vaccine resistance in red America would look like today were it not for the efforts of former President Trump to deny the seriousness of the pandemic and of several Republican governors to echo similar views and stand in the way of public health measures like mask orders or mandates.  

The intrigue: Then there is another group who also make up a significant share of the unvaccinated: younger adults. Nearly 40% of the unvaccinated are 30–49 years old and another 27% are 18–29.

  • These are the groups who get a lot of their COVID information from social media and are particularly prone to myths and misinformation. They will make the critical decisions about vaccination of the next big group of unvaccinated Americans, children.
  • Nearly half (48%) of parents of children ages 12–17 say their child has received at least one dose of a vaccine.
  • With Pfizer's clinical trials showing their COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective for children ages five to eleven, at this early stage about a third of parents (34%) say they will vaccinate their 5-to-11-year-old child "right away" once a vaccine is authorized for their age group.  

It is unclear whether unvaccinated parents will be equally cautious about vaccinating their kids or more likely to put their qualms about vaccination aside to protect them as they see more and more stories about children's hospitals filling up and schools closing as children and staff are infected.

The bottom line: Equity requires a continuing heavy emphasis on vaccination in communities of color where there is a disproportionate risk for bad outcomes from infection with COVID and historical structural inequities.

  • However, if the vaccination effort is to go where the bulk of the problem is, that's now mostly red America, younger adults and their children.
Go deeper