Mar 29, 2021 - News

GOP vaccine hesitancy is a big obstacle for Iowa's herd immunity

Illustration of a syringe being crushed by an elephant's foot.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Republicans, especially men, are among the most reluctant to receive a COVID vaccine, Iowa and national polls show.

Why it matters: That runs counter to the dominant narrative that minority groups are the most hesitant, as explored last week in a New York Times podcast.

  • Individuals who aren't vaccinated face increased health risks, but the reluctance also affects the wider goal to reach herd immunity.
  • As Iowa opens vaccine eligibility to all adults next week, the state is quickly approaching a point where it'll soon shift its vaccination focus to those who have declined earlier opportunities.

By the numbers: 41% of Iowa Republicans don’t plan to be vaccinated compared with 8% of Democrats and 30% of independents, according to an Iowa Poll published by the Des Moines Register this month.

  • Among those groups, men lead in reluctancy.

What they're saying: Polk County Republican Party Chairwoman Gloria Mazza, who recovered from COVID and had a friend who died from it, doesn't plan to push for vaccinations among her group, arguing that peoples' concerns about potential unknown consequences must be respected.

  • "I'm not a rebel by any means. I know this stuff is real. I've lived it, but I also believe strongly in personal choice," she told Axios.

The big picture: The percent of the population that must be vaccinated to reach herd immunity remains under study, but is generally believed to be about 60-70%.

  • Almost 1 million Iowans are now at least partially vaccinated. Of those, about 60% are women. (Our population of adults is around 2.4 million.)
  • Reaching herd immunity may be through a "long, very difficult and remarkably unpleasant way" if people don't get vaccinated, John Rovers, a pharmacy professor at Drake told Axios.

What's next: Polk County health officials will soon launch outreach efforts to "any groups" that are hesitant, spokeswoman Nola Aigner Davis told Axios when asked about whether the department would target politically-affiliated organizations.

  • State officials are already working with community organizations to coordinate outreach to communities who face barriers in accessing a vaccine, Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week.
  • Reynolds didn't specifically mention her party as an outreach target. But she got vaccinated during a press conference earlier this month and has said it is the most important thing to ensure the state's recovery.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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