A Reality Check on Vaccination

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Dr. Joseph Varon (R) speaks for medias about the arrival of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 21, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Vac... HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) Dr. Joseph Varon (R) speaks for medias about the arrival of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 21, 2020 in Houston, Texas. Vaccinations in the U.S. began last week with healthcare workers, with at least 556,000 doses reportedly administered. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images) MORE LESS

So much of story of 2021 has been about the polarization over vaccines and the battle to get the country vaccinated against COVID. You know all this story with all its trials and permutations. But for all of this it’s worth stepping back and recognizing this fact: the United States is overwhelmingly vaccinated. At the moment, 80% of people over the age of 12 in the United States have received at least one vaccine dose and 69% are fully vaccinated. Over the age of 18 those stats are 82% and 71%. (The over-12 metric is critical because 5-12 year olds have only become eligible this month; those under the age of five remain ineligible.)

None of this is to underestimate the importance of increased vaccination or the destruction that has been wrought by the willful politicization of the COVID vaccine. But sometimes we have the idea that the country is divided on this issue. And that’s not quite right. Overwhelmingly, adults and those eligible to be vaccinated are vaccinated. A small minority of the adult population remains unvaccinated.

What’s more only a portion of that 20%+ of the population is what we might call politicized vaccine hold outs. Some are still in a wait-and-see mode (though yes, it’s hard to know what they’re waiting for). But only a portion are the folks stereotypical Trump types who have come to see vaccination as a defeat for their ideology or worldview.

I got to thinking about this when I was reminded that a year ago only about 1/3 of US adults said they were ready to get vaccinated. That statistic is jarring today. But we should remember the facts on hand at that moment. The clinical trials had only just been published. It was an open secret that in the final weeks before the 2020 election that then-President Trump was pressuring the FDA to get the vaccine campaign underway before the election – not something that inspires a lot of confidence. The clinical trials included only a few thousand recipients. And it was a newish vaccine technology – not just another flavor of the vaccines we’ve all been getting through our lives. Some level of caution was certainly understandable if not necessarily warranted.

I would include myself in that category, if only just a bit. Had I been eligible I would have gotten vaccinated on day one in December 2020, I think. It was a hypothetical question since I knew I was at the back of the line: middle aged but healthy and in a line of work I barely had to leave my house to do. I figured I probably wouldn’t be eligible until summer or fall of 2021. I was pretty bummed about that. But I also remember thinking that as long as I had no choice in the matter it wasn’t the worst thing that I’d get to see how the test drive went for tens of millions of other Americans before it was my turn.

So, yes, it would be great if we were at 90% vaccination. There are a lot of people to blame for our not getting there. But let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of eligible Americans are vaccinated.

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