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The COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 4 million people around the globe in less than 18 months, while people in all countries have endured draconian lockdowns, uncomfortable mask mandates, and almost a year without schools in order to contain the virus. Vaccines prove a way out of this vicious cycle of collapsing hospitals and paralyzed economies, however, vaccination rates have stagnated, and polls show that there is a partisan divide on the issue of vaccine hesitancy.
Civiqs polls show that while 89% of Democrats and 62% of Independents say they have been vaccinated, 46% of Republicans say the same. A Gallup poll shows some similar results, with 46% of Republicans answering they do not plan to get vaccinated, a significantly higher number than the 31% of Independents or 6% of Democrats.
The issue might be politicized but the virus does not ask for party ID and the recent uptick in COVID cases is disproportionately affecting unvaccinated people. For example, in Alabama, 96% of COVID deaths in the state have been unvaccinated people, Alabama also is the state with the lowest percentage of fully vaccinated people (34%) and it is experiencing a (still moderate) rise in both positive cases and hospitalizations due to COVID-19.
The contrast between states with a higher percentage of vaccines administered and those with a lower can be seen when we compare New York with Alabama. While the former has almost five times the population of the latter, it has reported less positive cases and Alabama’s hospitalization rate is just barely below that of New York (518 to 781).
Alabama is also one of the most Republican states in the country, where Trump won with more than 60% of the vote. It is a pattern that you can also observe in the rest of the country, with states that tend to be more Democrat more likely to have a higher percentage of administered doses than states that vote Republican.
Leading Conservatives have encouraged vaccinations
The partisan nature of the vaccination divide has led many conservative politicians and commentators to publicly call for their fellow conservatives to get vaccinated. Governors, senators, representatives, pundits, and many others have made public calls promoting vaccinations.
Fox News anchor Sean Hannity urged his viewers to “take COVID seriously”, that “enough people have died”, that it “absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated” and that “I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination”. Conservative pundit Ben Shapiro has been a vocal supporter of vaccination efforts since the vaccination rollout began at the end of last year, with him encouraging his followers to get vaccinated since December 2020.
Republican governors around the country have done the same around the country. Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson started a statewide tour to promote vaccination by answering questions from those who are hesitant to them, and West Virginia’s Jim Justice even started a lottery program to incentivize its citizens to get vaccinated.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who is also a rising conservative star, held a press conference earlier this Wednesday where he clearly called for people to get vaccinated. The governor said that the data is very clear since the chances for someone who is fully vaccinated to die or become seriously ill from COVID is “effectively zero” and that “these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
GOP members of Congress have also made efforts to encourage their constituents to get vaccinated. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who is a Polio survivor, has called for people to get vaccinated in order to avoid a repeat of 2020, saying that “these shots need to get into arms as rapidly as possible”.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) has also made calls for unvaccinated Americans to get the jabs, saying at an interview to CBS that “everyone should be vaccinated, there’s no reason not to be vaccinated” adding the both he and his family have been vaccinated, and that “people shouldn’t be listening” to people who are telling them not to get vaccinated.
The GOP congressional leadership in the House of Representatives has also supported vaccination efforts. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was vaccinated in December 2020. Republican Whip Steve Scalise got his first dose this week and Rep. Elise Stefanik, Republican Chair, will hold a press conference this Thursday to promote vaccination efforts.
Even former President Trump has also previously encouraged his followers to get vaccinated, saying in an interview to Fox News in March 2021 that the vaccines (developed under his administration) “work very well”, that is a “safe vaccine” and that he recommends his supporters to get it.
Like many things in the U.S, vaccines have become a politicized issue, with many Democrats (including VP Kamala Harris) saying they did not trust the Trump administration over the safety of the vaccine as they argued the president would pressure the FDA to rush a vaccine due to political purposes, some even argued they would not trust the CDC nor the FDA.
Yesterday Democrats stoked fears over vaccine safety, today Republicans are the ones more likely to be skeptical. This should not be this way, vaccines have been widely used around the world and have proven effective at reducing mortality due to COVID-19, vaccines are the silver bullet to end the pandemic once and for all, let us use them.
Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student from the University of South Florida. He worked as a congressional intern to Rep. Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) from January to May 2020. He also is the head of international analysis at Politiks // Daniel es un estudiante de Cs Políticas y Economía en la Universidad del Sur de la Florida. Trabajo como pasante legislativo para el Representate Gus Bilirakis (FL-12) desde enero hasta mayo del 2020. Daniel también es el jefe de análisis internacional de Politiks.