That should be a benefit to communities of color. Despite having the highest rates of vaccine demand according to Civiqs, Black and Latino communities have faced a lack of vaccine access—in some cases, specifically because of false assumptions that there was resistance to the vaccine in Black communities. But people of color are the majority of those receiving vaccinations at the federally funded sites, so expanding their use should help to fight the inequity of vaccine distribution so far.
The second biggest chunk of funds announced on Wednesday are those aimed at convincing the genuinely reluctant to take the vaccine through a program of outreach and education. And there’s little doubt about where that needs to be directed: 41% of Republicans are still saying they will not take the vaccine. And new information shows exactly who is to blame for that vaccine reluctance.
As of Wednesday, the CDC reports over 169 million doses of vaccine had been delivered to states and over 130 million doses had been administered. However, since most of the vaccines in use require two doses, that translates to over 85 million Americans who have received at least one dose. The count of those who have been fully vaccinated stands at 46 million. That means out of a total American population of 229 million people 16 or older, about 37% have received at least one shot, and 20% have been fully vaccinated.
As of Wednesday, Civiqs indicates that the overall number of Americans in their national polling data reporting that they’ve already been vaccinated stands at 32%. With another 37% saying they definitely intend to be vaccinated.
The numbers of those already vaccinated is running behind among Black respondents, with just 29% saying they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccine. However, when compared to past data, this shows a closing of the gap between vaccine availability in white and Black communities. The numbers also show that demand for vaccine in Black communities remains high.
But one thing that’s been remarkably consistent in all of the polling has been how Republicans have become, by far, the biggest bastion of anti-vaxxers. Just 48% of Republicans now say they have either been vaccinated, or intend to be vaccinated. And 41% of Republicans continue to say they will not accept the vaccine — a number that has barely changed since polling began.
One thing that has reversed in the last two weeks: the percentage of Black Americans who have been vaccinated now exceeds the percentage of Republicans who have been vaccinated. Which indicates that states are finally realizing that demand is actually higher in communities of color, and are shifting vaccine to those areas rather than continuing to flood areas of lower acceptance.
The reason for Republican reluctance goes beyond just the fact that it’s President Biden who is effectively delivering vaccine. As The Daily Beast reports, in Donald Trump’s final months at the White House, it was already clear that conspiracy theories were swirling around the vaccine. Those theories were blowing up in the same social media circles, and on right-wing media in general, so multiple advisers came to Trump, asking him to get out front of the issue by publicly promoting the vaccine.
Trump refused. By that time, he was all but ignoring everything to do with the pandemic. Instead, he focused all his attention on attempts to overturn the election results, and only inflamed conspiracy theories by supporting a series of wild claims. Following up on a year in which Trump had refused to enact any federal standards for social distancing, create a federal testing and case tracing system, promoted hydroxychloroquine as a “miracle,” and proposed injecting bleach, the refusal to promote the vaccine when it became available was the sickly cherry on top of a poison parfait. When Trump himself received the vaccine, he did so secretly, and the fact that he had even been inoculated didn’t come to light until well after he left office.
The result is situations like that in Texas, where the Texas Tribune reports that a wide majority of Republicans have rejected the vaccine. Their polling shows that “59% of Republicans either said they are reluctant to get the vaccine or would refuse it outright.” With 52% of the vote in Texas going for Trump in 2020, that suggests that a majority of adults in Texas will refuse to get vaccinated.
The result of that reluctance may already be visible in the CDC data. Texas is number 48 out of 50 states when it comes to the rate of vaccination. And it’s part of a band of states across the south—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee—that together are lagging well behind other states. Some of these problems may stem from bad assumptions on the part of state officials. For example, Georgia cut vaccine deliveries to the largest county in the state over those false assumptions that it was Black communities that were most reluctant to accept the vaccine.
It’s likely that vaccination efforts in numerous red states are already being slowed significantly by the low rate of vaccine acceptance among Republicans. The $3B targeted for outreach and pushing back against conspiracy theories may help. But Donald Trump’s refusal to help end a crisis that is largely of his own making still acts as a significant barrier. As in Georgia, Trump has demonstrated he has no qualms at all about attacking state officials, so it’s unclear either that other Republican leaders are willing to be vocal supporters of the vaccination effort, or that anyone will listen to them in any case.
Current trends show the nation heading toward a situation where the number of unvaccinated people in red states is more than sufficient to maintain an endemic presence of COVID-19. In bluer areas of the nation, the critical numbers for herd immunity may be achieved, limiting community spread. However, that would provide little guarantee of safety when red states would offer a constant source of fresh virus—and new variants.