The growing politicization of Covid vaccines

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President Biden on Tuesday called on governors to open up the coronavirus vaccination to all adults within the next two weeks, accelerating a target he previously set for May 1.

But recent polls and political tides, especially in the Red States, suggest that if the country is to achieve collective immunity, simply making the vaccine available may not be enough. A significant minority of skeptics remain suspicious of being vaccinated, polls suggest, with questions about the safety of the vaccine being at the heart of their doubts.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease specialist, said the country should not expect to achieve collective immunity – whereby a disease effectively stops traveling freely between infected people – as long as at least 75% of Americans are not vaccinated.

Some states and businesses are starting to treat proof of vaccination as a kind of passport. Many cruise ships, for example, require proof of vaccination for passengers, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo last month announced the creation of the Excelsior Pass, a way for state residents to show off easily proof of vaccination using a smartphone. Proof of shot is now required to enter certain large venues under New York’s current reopening guidelines.

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But the political picture is different elsewhere. On Monday, Greg Abbott of Texas became the second Republican governor, after Ron DeSantis of Florida, to sign an executive order banning companies from requiring their employees to be vaccinated.

Dr Fauci made it clear yesterday that he and the Biden administration are likely to stay out of this. “I doubt that the federal government is the main driver of a vaccine passport concept,” he told the “Politico Dispatch” podcast. “They can help make sure things are done fairly and equitably, but I doubt the federal government is leading the way.”

But without a boost, polls suggest it could take some time to get the whole country vaccinated.

Nearly half of American adults said they received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to an Axios / Ipsos poll released on Tuesday, but there is reason to believe that the increase in vaccinations may decline soon. Among those who had not been vaccinated, people were more likely to say they would wait a year or more (25%) than to say they would receive the vaccine a few weeks after it became available (19%). Thirty-one percent of Republicans said they were not at all likely to get the vaccine. This is in part the cause of deep mistrust among white evangelical Christians, a central part of the Republican base, who polls have shown to be among the populations most opposed to vaccines.

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A separate poll released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post found that more than a third of the country has little confidence that Covid-19 vaccines have been “properly tested for safety and effectiveness.” Healthcare workers also followed the rest of the population in terms of vaccine skepticism: 36 percent were not confident.

When it comes to trust, there is no stronger measure than giving your child something. Dr Fauci made it clear that herd immunity would not be possible without widespread vaccination of young people, so any target for the country must include them as well. But nearly half of all parents surveyed by Axios / Ipsos said they likely wouldn’t be the first to get their children vaccinated when it becomes available.

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Fifty-two percent of those polled with a child under 18 at home said they would likely benefit from the vaccine as soon as their child’s age group was eligible, but 48% said no.

But while some vaccine skepticism persists, Americans report meeting in much higher numbers. Fifty-five percent of the country’s residents said they had been in the company of family or friends in the past week, more than at any time in the past year. Forty-five percent said they had recently gone out to eat.

Thirty-six percent said they had not practiced social distancing at all in the past week.

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