The U.S. has enjoyed a surprisingly effective vaccine rollout over the last couple months (hiccups notwithstanding) and got 50 percent of its eligible adults vaxxed up well ahead of expectations. But there are signs that the U.S. is hitting a ceiling in terms of people who want to get vaccinated, with a huge surplus of available doses and a dwindling supply of people who want them. There are a number of reasons for this, and one of them is vaccine hesitancy and skepticism — people who mistrust the scientific data on vaccinations and would rather take their chances on COVID-19. Now, a new study says one big key to convincing such skeptics to change their tune is faith leaders.
PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) and Interfaith Youth Core conducted a study in which Americans were broken into three groups: vaccine acceptors, vaccine refusers and the vaccine hesitant. They found that anti-vaccine sentiment is particularly strong within religious groups, especially white evangelicals — 26 percent of whom do not plan on getting the shot. Hispanic Protestants and Protestants of Color are more likely to be vaccine hesitant — not wholly opposed to getting vaccinated, but more inclined to wait and see how the rollout goes.
Significant percentages of such groups said that a faith-based approach to changing their mind — such as encouragement from a faith leader — would be effective. 38 percent of “vaccine hesitant” white evangelicals along with 36 percent of vaccine hesitant Black Protestants and 33 percent of Hispanic Catholics say a faith-based approach would increase their acceptance.
That’s a big deal, since experts believe the U.S. needs to get something like 70 – 90 percent vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, a percentage that will be difficult to reach if the slowdown continues. In addition to faith leaders encouraging their congregations to get vaccinated, the study suggested approaches like hosting vaccine forums with local medical experts at nearby religious institutions or even setting up vaccination sites at churches.
“Even among a homogeneous group like white evangelical Protestants, each of these things picks up slightly different slices,” said head of PRRI Robert P. Jones. “The cumulative effect is bigger than just any of these one of six.”