Monday, March 08, 2021

Herd immunity may depend on reluctant Republicans; could mean complications for rural areas, and thus for the nation

Timothy Shea showed his fishnet mask at the recent Conservative
Political Action Conference. (Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford)
Whether or when the nation develops herd immunity to the novel coronavirus may depend on Republicans, almost a third of whom tell pollsters that they will definitely not get vaccinated. That could have implications for rural areas, which became more Republican under a president who politicized the pandemic. Among other groups, "hesitancy has started to wane while GOP resistance to the vaccines remains relatively  high," Dan Diamond of The Washington Post reports after moving from Politico's health beat.

Describing the reluctance of an elderly Trump voter in Oklahoma who would be interviewed only if her last name wasn't used, Diamond notes, "Polls have repeatedly found that nearly one-third of Republicans share her staunch resistance to the coronavirus vaccines, although for a variety of reasons. Some, like Margaret, worry they were developed too quickly. Others argue without evidence that many vaccines are unsafe or will make them sick. Still more echo Trump’s repeated contention that the coronavirus threat is overblown and simply don’t trust the government’s involvement."

Public-health experts have focused persuasion efforts on communities of color, "worried their historical distrust of the medical establishment might lead to low vaccination rates," Diamond reports. "But there’s been less focus on winning over Republicans." The de Beaumont Foundation has hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to "crack the code" for Republicans, as Luntz put it. He said the most common thread is “They simply don’t trust the government to do the right thing.” But Diamond writes, "Vaccine-hesitant Republicans defy easy categorizations," and gives examples.

"The Biden administration is also researching how to reach holdout Republicans, said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss in-progress efforts," Diamond writes, quoting the official: “The most trusted messengers are doctors, nurses, faith leaders. We want to talk to everybody.”

Robert Coon, a Republican political consultant in Arkansas who has polled on the subject, todl Diamond, “I don’t think you’re going to end up with 70 percent adoption in some states, where you’re not going to have the majority of the biggest political party.” Diamond writes, "The proportion of people who need to be immune to reach herd immunity with covid-19 isn’t known, but experts estimate it between 70 to 85 percent."

Diamond offers an important caveat: "It’s too early to see those views play out. Health officials in eight rural counties that Trump won handily — in states ranging from Georgia and Pennsylvania to Texas and West Virginia — said that demand is still outpacing scant supply." Deborah Baker, health director in Missouri’s Pulaski County, which Trump carried by 46 points told Diamond, “We’ve had a huge outpouring of people wanting the vaccine here. . . . I don’t think the political environment has mattered.”

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