Thinking about evangelicals and COVID-19 vaccines: Wait! The numbers show WHAT?!?!

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The last 14 months have given the world a series of public health challenges that it has never had to grapple with before.

Will people willingly disrupt their lives in order to contain the spread of a potentially lethal virus? Can drug manufacturers develop and test a vaccine in a very short period of time that is effective against COVID-19? Will those same pharmaceutical companies be able to ramp up manufacturing capabilities quickly enough to satisfy the demand for those vaccines?

In terms of vaccine creation and distribution, there’s no doubt that it’s been an unqualified success. Every estimate indicates that the United States will be awash in vaccines by May. However, the question that is looming on the very near horizon is the most important and difficult to answer: will the United States be able to vaccinate enough of the population to get to a state of herd immunity and finally put an end to this year long nightmare?

It’s not the hard sciences that are under the microscope, it’s the social sciences. To reach herd immunity, most experts believe that a country needs to get at least 75% of the population fully vaccinated as a minimum threshold. Will that even be possible? Are societal factors like religion actually making the goal of herd immunity even more difficult?

The organization Data for Progress has been putting a poll into the field since the very beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020 as a way to get a sense of what percentage of the public is engaging in risky behaviors and how they feel the government is handling the crisis. Since January they have begun to ask respondents questions about their receptiveness to the vaccine. What these results indicate is that there are some reasons for hope, but there is also ample evidence that getting shots into arms may prove to be a lot more difficult in the very near future.

The survey asked respondents if they had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As can be quickly inferred, those shots were in short supply in January. Just about 6% of the entire sample indicated that they had gotten the vaccine at that point. However, things improved rapidly from there and the share of Americans who had been inoculated essentially doubled every month from January through early April, when 44% of the population had gotten a dose of the vaccine.

However, when the sample is broken down into the three of the largest religious groups: White evangelicals, White Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated, some disparities begin to emerge.

It’s noteworthy that White Christians were significantly more likely to get the vaccine than the general public between January and April. In the latest wave of the survey, nearly 60% of White Catholics had been vaccinated and just about half of White evangelicals said the same. It was the religious “nones” that were lagging far behind, with only 31% indicating that they had received one dose.

The nones are actually three groups of religiously unaffiliated people: atheists, agnostics and those that indicate their religious affiliation is “nothing in particular.” As I write about in my book: “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going, the nothing in particulars are demographically distinct from their atheist and agnostic cousins. That comes through most clearly on education. While over 40% of atheists and agnostics have a college degree, it’s just 20% of nothing in particulars. These are the types of factors that matter when it comes to securing a vaccine appointment, and the data bears that out.

Note that between January and March the share of the “nothing in particulars” who had received at least one dose of the vaccine did not change in any significant way.

For atheists and agnostics, the share that were vaccinated rose from 3% in January to 10% in February to 19% in March. In April, the floodgates began to open for both groups, however. The share of “nothing in particulars” who had received the COVID-19 vaccine went up nearly five-fold from 6% to 28%, but the share of atheists and agnostics who got the shot doubled as well. Even into April the disparity between these groups is large (about 12 percentage points). But it’s important to note that 44% of the entire sample had gotten at least one dose by this point, which means that atheists, agnostics and nothing in particulars were still behind the national average.

To this point we have only seen one part of the story. What about the people who either didn’t have access to the vaccine yet or are not sure that they would get the shot if it was available? Among those who indicated that they had not been vaccinated, the survey asked about their likelihood of eventually getting the vaccine. As can be seen, as the shots began to roll out to a greater share of the population, those who didn’t participate were expressing a great hesitancy to ever get the shot. Among the entire sample in April, 53% said that they were either “somewhat” or “very unlikely” to ever get the vaccine.

But what’s interesting is how little variation in hesitancy there is based on religious tradition. If April’s hesitancy number is just about 50%, then White evangelicals don’t express a significantly larger degree of hesitancy than the public at large. At the same time, the nones are just as likely to be hesitant as the general population, while White Catholics seemed to be a bit more open to the shot with only 44% indicating that they would be unlikely to get the shot. Taken together, there’s not compelling evidence here that any religious factor is either driving up or tamping down willingness to get the vaccine.

But, what does this mean for the future of the vaccine rollout?

CONTINUE READING:Data Show White Evangelicals And Catholics More Likely To Get Vaccine Than ‘Nones’ And General Public” by Ryan Burge at Religion Unplugged.

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