I wanted to share some thoughts and snippets of news following up on the GOP vaccine switcheroo. But first I wanted to share this LA Times article that helped me think more broadly about the issue. Reporter Brittny Mejia went to a pop-up vaccine clinic in LA to talk to people who were finally getting vaccinated after waiting months into their eligibility. The people who turned out at this clinic were mainly Latino immigrants, so not the demographic that has garnered the most attention in the mainstream media discussion. The reasons ranged the gamut: they’d had COVID and assumed continued immunity; they didn’t want to or couldn’t take time from work; they had general apprehensions about a vaccine without a long testing history; they’d heard conspiracy theories women becoming infertile. In some cases, it was perhaps some vague mix of one or more of these and just continuing to put it off – apathy for lack of a better word.
What jumped out to me is that basically none of the couple dozen people who showed up the day Mejia was there had held out for any ideological or political reasons. And in most cases – as their being there to get their shot makes clear – they were ultimately convincible. Many people who have heard stories of alarming side effects can be convinced by actual data or reassurance from people in their community they trust. We can make policy decisions that make it easier on people who don’t feel free to miss a day or more of work.
These are anecdotes but they remind us that the challenge is not only stereotypical Trumpers refusing for reasons tied to political commitment and ideology.
But I think CNN’s Brian Stelter captured the moment in this snippet when he said that last week was the week that vaccinated America started to get fed up.
Thesis: This was the week that vaccinated America started to get really fed up. pic.twitter.com/4VZfkuvVMF
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) July 25, 2021
That’s what’s driving the GOP vaccine switcheroo. What comes through when you look at demographic data is that minority communities tend to be more vaccine hesitant than vaccine resistant. It’s among white Republicans you see more affirmative resistance. And that’s not budging.
In late Spring it seemed like COVID was basically about over. Critically, it seemed like the non-vaccinated might be able to hitch a ride on the rest of the country’s vaccinated immunity. Everyone could drop their masks and get back into restaurants and theaters and it would all be fine. Clearly that didn’t pan out. One of the most hopeful signs in the last week is that that fact is leading a lot of people to go get vaccinated. After months of declines, the number of vaccinations is starting to rise again. But among the vaccinated there’s a growing realization that we’re going backwards, seeing rates go up, seeing some mask mandates come back because of the non-vaccinated. And people are getting frustrated. That is a big part of why you’re seeing Republicans not simply encouraging people to get vaccinated but even more trying to ditch the vaccine-resistant brand. They’re feeling exposed to shifting public opinion. In short, they don’t want to be accountable for what they’ve done.
To understand the politics, we need to take a different look at the numbers. We’re used to hearing the rather disappointing fact that even months into the vaccination drive and with surplus vaccines everywhere only just under half (49.1%) the US population is vaccinated. Epidemiologically, that’s bad news. But it looks different from an electoral perspective. 60% of adults (over 18) are vaccinated and fully 69% have received at least one dose. Shift our perspective in this way and you see that when you’re talking about the political nation, a big, verging on overwhelming majority are vaccinated. Among people over 65, the group that votes most consistently, 80% are vaccinated. Furthermore there is a lot of evidence that vaccination rates escalate with age. People in their forties are substantially more vaccinated than people in their twenties. So higher rates of vaccination align with propensity to vote.
If you’re vaccinated and are starting to wear a mask again at the grocery store or seeing reports that mask mandates may come back you know who is driving this: the voluntarily unvaccinated. It’s literally true. If 100% of the population over 12 was vaccinated none of this would be happening. Yes, there are breakthrough infections among the vaccinated – and more than we’d like to see. But that’s spill over from the unvaccinated community among whom Delta COVID is spreading like wildfire.
Most elected Republicans haven’t been explicitly anti-vaccination. Indeed, even before the last couple weeks many have made low volume statements saying they’ve been vaccinated and encouraging others to do so. But they’ve almost all participated in the effort to make vaccine resistance into a kind of freedom movement – banning government or private businesses from using vaccine passports, banning mask mandates, politicizing debates over school reopenings. As a party they’ve leaned into valorizing vaccine resistance and banning any private or governmental efforts to place the burden of the consequences of non-vaccination on those who choose not to be vaccinated.
They thought that would supercharge their already happy prospects for 2022 by riding an anti-vax or anti-vax mandate wave. And now they’re thinking they may have miscalculated.