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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A political divide over the COVID-19 vaccine threatens to hamper efforts to hit herd immunity — and the return to pre-pandemic life — in Minnesota and beyond.

State of play: Public polling has shown that vaccine hesitancy remains stubbornly high among Republicans. That could be a problem as wider swaths of the population become eligible for a shot.

  • 50% of Minnesota Republicans say they won't get a vaccine, per one recent KSTP/Survey USA poll, compared with 28% of the total state population. Seven in 10 who identify as "very conservative" are a no.

Driving the news: Public health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, say endorsements from GOP leaders could make a difference.

But here in Minnesota, outreach and support from GOP leaders has been mixed.

While some Republican figures have promoted the vaccine — even going as far as helping people find appointments — others, including numerous state legislators and former Viking Matt Birk, have expressed concerns or skepticism.

  • Scott Jensen, a physician and former state senator running for governor, told WCCO Radio he'd recommend the vaccine for older patients. But, contrary to public health guidance, he would "leave it at your choice" for people who are young and healthy and have concerns.
  • Minnesota Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan told Torey vaccination is a personal choice and that the party has no role in promoting the public health initiative.
    • When asked whether she'll get a shot, Carnahan said she's been too busy with her leadership re-election campaign to consider it.

The other side: House GOP Leader Kurt Daudt is among those voicing support for COVID-19 vaccinations, though he noted the rights of those who don't want a shot should be protected.

  • "I personally have 100% confidence in the vaccine and would encourage anyone to get it."

Why it matters: Given the hyper-politicization of the pandemic, "continued messages [of support] from elected Republicans would go a long way" in persuading hesitant Republicans, University of Minnesota political scientist Kathryn Pearson said.

  • Yes, but ... Brian McClung, a public affairs pro who worked as a top aide to former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty, noted that a recent focus group found nonpolitician messengers could be even more effective for those who are hesitant because of partisan polarization and distrust in government.
  • Hearing from doctors or hospitality leaders about the role mass vaccination plays in getting people back to their restaurants could be especially powerful, McClung said.

The bottom line: Public health experts estimate that up to 80% of the population needs to gain immunity to COVID-19, either through a vaccine or contracting the virus itself, to significantly stop spread.

  • Without a bigger share of Republicans on board, that's going to be harder to hit.

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

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Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Death toll mounts as fighting between Israel and Hamas intensifies

Palestinian Muslims exchange wishes for Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, near a razed building in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia, on May 13. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

At least 109 Palestinians and seven people in Israel have been killed since recent fighting between Israel's military and Hamas began Monday.

The big picture: Israel began massing troops on its border with Gaza on Thursday, launching attacks from the air and ground as Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel.

By the numbers: Where the earmarks are wanted

Expand chart
Data: House Committee on Appropriations; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Dallas-Fort Worth area is being targeted for the largest collective earmark request in the country, according to a detailed breakdown of overall requests released by the House Appropriations Committee.

Why it matters: House appropriators are trying to balance bipartisan momentum for infrastructure investment with "pork-barrel" spending's checkered political history. The data dump is an effort to provide transparency for what are now termed "community project funding" requests.

Democrats open to user fees for infrastructure deal

President Biden sits Thursday with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as they discuss his $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal. Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some Senate Democrats are open to paying for a compromise infrastructure package by imposing user fees, including increasing the gas tax and raising money from electric car drivers through a vehicle-miles-traveled charge.

Why it matters: By inching toward the Republican position on pay-fors, some Democrats are bucking President Biden's push to offset his proposed $2.3 trillion plan by focusing only on raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.