The United States missed President Biden’s target for administering a vaccination shot to 70 percent of adults by July 4. Only 67 percent of adults have received at least one dose. That may not seem so bad, but the United States, after getting off to a fast start in its vaccination campaign, is once again falling behind its peers. According to the New York Times, the percentage of all Americans (not just adults) who have gotten at least one vaccine shot is only 55 percent — which places us at No. 28 in the world, behind countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and even Hungary.
The Biden administration, in cooperation with the states, has done a superb job of rolling out the vaccines. Pretty much anyone older than 12 who wants a shot can get one. The problem is that a significant percentage of the country refuses to get vaccinated. While young people and African Americans exhibit vaccine hesitancy, the most problematic group by far is Republicans. According to a new Post-ABC News poll, 86 percent of Democrats have gotten at least one vaccine shot, compared with only 45 percent of Republicans. Forty-seven percent of Republicans say they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with only 6 percent of Democrats.
The states that have the lowest vaccination rates — Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wyoming — are all Republican redoubts. It’s no coincidence that many red states are also seeing the worst outbreaks of the disease in recent weeks: The average number of daily cases in the past 14 days has surged 145 percent in South Carolina, 137 percent in Nebraska and 121 percent in Arkansas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that 99.5 percent of U.S. covid-19 deaths in the past six months were among unvaccinated people.
What’s wrong with the people who aren’t getting vaccinated? Aren’t they worried about the far more transmissible delta variant? Data from Israel show that, while the Pfizer vaccine is only 64 percent effective in preventing delta-variant infection, it is 93 percent effective in preventing hospitalization. That’s still a powerful argument for vaccination. But 57 percent of Republicans in the Post-ABC poll say officials are exaggerating the delta variant’s risk, compared with only 12 percent of Democrats. These Republicans have fallen victim to a virulent strain of misinformation circulating in the right-wing echo chamber.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), of “Jewish space lasers” fame, tweeted on June 22, based on outdated guidance, that “The WHO says ‘children should not be vaccinated.’” (The World Health Organization actually says “that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is suitable for use by people aged 12 years and above.”)
On July 3, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) tweeted: “I’ve been contacted by members of our voluntary military who say they will quit if the COVID vaccine is mandated. I introduced HR 3860 to prohibit any mandatory requirement that a member of the Armed Forces receive a vaccination against covid-19.” Numerous veterans pointed out that military members can’t simply “quit” — that would be going AWOL — and that they already receive numerous mandatory vaccinations.
These despicable demagogues don’t come out and simply say vaccines are dangerous. Rather, like many conspiracy mongers, they imply it by asking loaded questions. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), for example, recently sent letters to the CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna “seeking answers about adverse reactions to the covid-19 vaccine.” His demand for “answers” was then reported by Fox “News,” which has become a superspreader of vaccine disinformation.
When Fox’s top-rated bloviator Tucker Carlson is not busy fearmongering about immigration, he is fearmongering about vaccination. He has repeatedly claimed, for example, that the administration’s own data “show a massive increase in deaths” from coronavirus vaccines. Not quite. He is citing uncorroborated reports that can be submitted by anyone. These raw numbers include people who died in a car accident or committed suicide after being vaccinated. Naturally, Carlson won’t say if he has been vaccinated himself. He is fearmongering for both profit and political advantage.
Sadly, roughly one-third of the country is impervious to science and even self-interest. That’s a big problem for the rational rest. Widespread vaccine resistance ensures that covid-19 will continue circulating as more virulent strains emerge. The only way we are likely to achieve “herd immunity” now is the hard way — by having a lot more people fall ill and die from the delta variant. The anti-vaxxers have a lot to answer for.