Pandemic of distrust: On resisting COVID-19 vaccination

Those resisting vaccination mostly conform to a specific social, cultural, and political profile

Updated - August 06, 2021 01:46 am IST

Published - August 06, 2021 12:02 am IST

President Joe Biden and the director of the CDC warned this week that the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. was becoming a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” . This underscores the growing divergence across U.S. States and communities in terms of the prevalence and intensity of the Delta variant infection, depending on the extent to which these cohorts had been vaccinated. Approximately 30% of the adult population has yet to be vaccinated, along with 58% of those in the 12-17 years age group. The country has reached this troubling impasse despite a strong start. To date, 348 million doses have been given so far. This came on the back of the firm commitment by the Biden administration to follow the science in the tackling of the pandemic, and quickly secure pledges from vaccine manufacturers — including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — to supply 700m doses by the end of July 2021, enough to cover 400m people. Using everything from consistent high-level messaging by the President and his team to get vaccinated, to lottery tickets and cash gifts offered by local and State governments to those willing to step and get a shot, the country has powered through to the point where 193 million Americans have received at least one dose, and at least 165 million people have received all the required doses.

Yet, it is now increasingly clear that there are two cohorts of adults resisting vaccines: the first, who are averse to getting vaccinated in all circumstances — preponderantly those who are rural, white, politically conservative, and evangelical Christian, according to surveys; and the second that are open to considering getting vaccinated but would like to wait for some time before committing to it. The second cohort is, like the first, mixed to an extent, but primarily consists of a diverse urban group, younger in age, often Democratic, and includes minorities such as African Americans, and Latino Americans. Regardless of the reasons for resisting, the statistics paint a grim picture, of 95% or higher of COVID-19 hospitalisations and deaths being of unvaccinated people; and of the highest toll affecting States with lower-than-average vaccination rates, including the likes of Florida and Texas. The Biden administration has an unenviable, multi-pronged task at hand. On the one hand, it must continue to put out facts and data as well as advocacy messaging for ever-widening vaccine reach, and this includes working alongside social media platforms to clamp down on rampant misinformation. On the other hand, it needs to avoid succumbing to any and all pressures to relax precautions, for example the disastrous — and now reversed — guidance supplied by the CDC on May 13 to the effect that people need not wear masks if they had been vaccinated.

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