As Joe Biden prepared to take office, he announced an ambitious target to vaccinate 100 million Americans within his first 100 days. When it became clear he was going to achieve that goal well ahead of schedule, he upped it to 200 million, a figure his administration is on track to hit this week. As part of that effort, on Wednesday, the president will call on businesses to give workers paid time off to get their COVID-19 shots. On Monday, everyone in the country over 16 became eligible for the vaccination, and as of Wednesday, 40% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of a vaccine and more than 50% of adults had gotten at least one shot, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tally. Which is obviously fantastic news! A lot less fantastic: the fact that a significant number of Republicans are refusing to get the vaccines available to them, threatening to prevent the U.S. from reaching herd immunity and a return to prepandemic life.
Axios reports that the United States is expected to run out of adults who want to get vaccinated within the next two to four weeks, citing a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. According to the authors of the paper, “It appears we are quite close to the tipping point where demand for rather than supply of vaccines is our primary challenge.… Federal, state, and local officials, and the private sector, will face the challenge of having to figure out how to increase willingness to get vaccinated among those still on the fence, and ideally among the one-fifth of adults who have consistently said they would not get vaccinated or would do so only if required.“ The authors added: “Once this happens, efforts to encourage vaccination will become much harder, presenting a challenge to reaching the levels of herd immunity that are expected to be needed.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Donald Trump’s refusal to get his own shot in public, and to do the absolute bare minimum when it comes to convincing his base of the importance of getting vaccinated, “vaccine hesitancy“ among Republicans is raging. According to a Monmouth University poll conducted between April 8 and April 12, 43% of GOP respondents said they’ll never get the coronavirus vaccine (versus just 5% of Democrats). In a Quinnipiac University poll, 45% of Republicans said they “don’t plan” on getting the shot. Overall, states that voted for Trump in 2020 are lagging behind those that went for Biden when it comes to vaccinations.
Yet more worrisome: the fact that there appears to be little that can be done to change the minds of people refusing to take one of the most important steps toward ending the pandemic. Per The Washington Post:
Many vaccine-hesitant Americans are increasingly entrenched in their decisions to resist the shots, said Frank Luntz, a longtime GOP communications expert who convened [a] focus group over Zoom. “The further we go into the vaccination process, the more passionate the hesitancy is,” Luntz said after the session. “If you’ve refused to take the vaccine this long, it’s going to be hard to switch you.” That was the case in the weekend’s focus group, the latest in a series Luntz has convened. It included 17 participants who heard pro-vaccine pitches from four doctors, including three Republican politicians and Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the Obama administration. Unlike a similar focus group five weeks ago, when most participants told Luntz and Frieden that the session persuaded them to get shots, attendees Sunday said they were swayed only moderately by doctors’ urging—or not moved at all.
“I was zero [on] the vaccine. I’m still a zero,” said a woman identified as Tammy from Virginia about an hour into Sunday’s focus group. Her comments came after Frieden repeatedly tried to calm attendees’ fears, which included questions about the vaccines’ unknown long-term effects and about baseless claims suggesting the shots would change recipients’ DNA even though that does not happen.
Disturbingly, the focus group revealed that many people refusing to get vaccinated would use a fake vaccination card claiming they had received their shots. “One-thousand percent,” one woman said. “If I have a fake vaccine card, yeah, I can go anywhere,” said one man. Other participants said they‘d use a fake vaccination card to go on trips and attend concerts. Federal officials have warned that they will prosecute Americans who make, sell, or use falsified cards, and noted that the use of such documents could prolong the pandemic by letting unvaccinated people continue to spread the highly contagious virus.