Data reveal big opportunity to finish the vaccine job

Data reveal big opportunity to finish the vaccine job
© Getty

“This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyFDA panel endorses COVID-19 booster shots for older Americans, rejects widespread use Watch live: White House COVID-19 response team holds briefing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows MORE warned last week. President BidenJoe BidenHouse Democrat threatens to vote against party's spending bill if HBCUs don't get more federal aid Overnight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake Haitians stuck in Texas extend Biden's immigration woes MORE echoed her sentiments on Friday. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated,” he told reporters.

As the death rate rises for the first time in months, with a seven-day 70 percent increase in cases and a hospitalization spike of 36 percent, both state and local governments are scrambling for a solution that protects Americans and encourages the unvaccinated to get their jabs. On Saturday night, Los Angeles County reinstituted a sweeping indoor mask mandate, which has been decried by those on the right and the left as anti-science and flying in the face of CDC guidance. President Biden called for a door-to-door vaccine education effort, though experts worry much more is needed.

Calls for vaccine passports are increasing, too. Fueled by moves like those of French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronOvernight Defense & National Security — The Pentagon's deadly mistake France pulls ambassadors to US, Australia in protest of submarine deal The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Tight security for Capitol rally; Biden agenda slows MORE, who announced that beginning this week only the fully vaccinated will be able to enter restaurants, bars, trains and other public spaces, the idea is resonating. While there are plenty of angry French citizens, there were also 2.2 million vaccine appointments made in less than 48 hours.

ADVERTISEMENT

But data show that these government-fueled approaches to getting vaccine-hesitant Americans to sign up for their doses may do more harm than good. 

Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released the results of their six-month COVID-19 vaccine monitor study. KFF tracked vaccine confidence and hesitancy, trusted messengers and messages, and the public’s experience with vaccination from January until today.

The results show a stunning level of consistency over the course of the six months and great opportunity for friends and family to help push the vaccine-hesitant toward vaccination. 

Over nine in 10 Americans who said they were planning to get vaccinated as soon as they had the opportunity reported receiving at least one dose six months later. This includes 72 percent who received the vaccine over two months ago. In encouraging news, 54 percent of adults who were in the “wait and see” group have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, and a quarter of those who said they would “only get vaccinated if required” or “definitely not” get vaccinated have done so in the past six months.

The role of friends and family in persuading adults to get the shot was powerful. Qualitative interviews revealed that a quarter of that group went ahead with the vaccine after seeing their friends and family fail to develop side effects. “Almost all of my friends were vaccinated with no side effects,” a 64-year old Black female Democrat from Tennessee said. “That it was clearly safe. No one was dying,” a 32-year old white male Republican from South Carolina offered.

ADVERTISEMENT

A 28-year old white male independent in Virginia said that “friends and family talked me into it, as did my place of employment.” And a 68-year old white male Democrat from California reported that “five generations of our family are getting together in one week from now” as his rationale.

Physicians and other health care providers also played a substantial part in convincing hesitant Americans to get vaccinated in upwards of 10 percent of cases, the study found. A 58-year old  male white Republicans from Washington “discussed [his] spouse’s immune system” with his doctor and decided to get the shot. Others were persuaded to because of underlying conditions such as diabetes and COPD.

There was a small share who reported the easing of restrictions for vaccinated Americans helped change their minds, but nothing like the effects discussed above. It follows that there is little evidence that hectoring people into getting the shot, especially along partisan lines, is going to be effective. In fact, KFF data reveal that Black Americans, the most Democratic-leaning constituency, remain the most vaccine-hesitant.

Prominent Republicans such as Sens. John CornynJohn CornynDemocrats make case to Senate parliamentarian for 8 million green cards Democrats to make pitch Friday for pathway to citizenship in spending bill Without major changes, more Americans could be victims of online crime MORE of Texas and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyWarren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack Overnight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — GOP senator: It's 'foolish' to buy Treasury bonds Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling MORE of Utah have said vaccine skepticism is “based on conspiracy theories” and “moronic.” But as pediatrician Rhea Boyd notes, there are a lot of legitimate questions about the vaccine not rooted in politics or conspiracy theory. She recently spoke to over 5,000 people in rural Georgia where most were not vaccinated and “every question they asked was legitimate and important.”

We too often lose sight of the fact that vaccine-hesitant Americans are not a monolith and forget the subsequent dangers of creating an environment in which people are afraid to ask questions. As Michael Brendan Dougherty argues in the National Review, “For vaccine proponents, it feels like lowering themselves to answer people they believe to be less intelligent.”

I’m no pollyanna. I know as well as you do that the Americans who think the vaccine is actually a cover for injecting a 5G microchip into our system so the government and big tech can track us are probably beyond reach, but there are millions who remain unvaccinated for very sane reasons. For example, some are concerned about taking a vaccine that is approved on an emergency basis, or that there aren’t long-term studies that show the vaccine keeps one safe beyond a few months. I have even heard these concerns in my own circle of liberal vaccinated friends and colleagues. 

It falls on all of us who are friends, family and some even health care providers of vaccine-hesitant people to treat them with dignity and concern in promoting this wildly effective solution to our COVID-19 woes. As the KFF survey shows us, they’re ripe for convincing if we do it the right way. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.