That was then. In recent weeks, it’s started to appear that Biden was too optimistic. The United States came close but failed to meet the 70 percent threshold by July Fourth. This month Canada passed the United States in the percentage of citizens who are fully vaccinated. At the same time, the delta variant has driven the number of daily U.S. coronavirus cases back to more than 50,000 — and that is probably an undercount, as testing has sagged. John Barry is writing disturbing op-eds in The Washington Post about the historical parallels with past influenza pandemics.
It is interesting to note two reactions to these trends within the United States. The first is that many Republican leaders have gone from tepidly supporting vaccination to ardently supporting it. Some Fox News hosts have been more vocal about the need for vaccines. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) finally got vaccinated, calling it “safe and effective.” Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey had some pointed words for the laggards in her state who have not yet chosen to be vaccinated: “It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks.” Other GOP luminaries such as Arkansas governor wannabe Sarah Sanders have called for their supporters to get vaccinated.
What explains this response? Republican pollster Frank Luntz told the Associated Press, “I think they’ve finally realized that if their people aren’t vaccinated, they’re going to get sick, and if their people aren’t vaccinated, they’re going to get blamed for covid outbreaks in the future.”
It might run deeper than that, however. Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall suggests that vaccinated Americans are simply fed up with their fellow countrymen. Marshall notes that while less than half of all Americans are fully vaccinated, those numbers look very different when you look at, say, likely voters: “60% of adults (over 18) are vaccinated and fully 69% have received at least one dose. Shift our perspective in this way and you see that when you’re talking about the political nation, a big, verging on overwhelming majority are vaccinated … higher rates of vaccination align with propensity to vote.”
Marshall concludes, “If you’re vaccinated and are starting to wear a mask again at the grocery store or seeing reports that mask mandates may come back you know who is driving this: the voluntarily unvaccinated.” The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts agrees. When cases were falling, the vaccinated could be indifferent to the hesitant and resistant, because their inaction did not seem to be too harmful. As the delta variant has spread, however, the perspective has changed. Last year, those who resisted masking or generally went about their lives did not intersect too much with those who accepted the reality of covid-19. Now, however, the fully vaccinated have paid their dues, are ready to reengage with the world and find new restrictions because of the reckless behavior of the unvaccinated. That makes it personal.
This might explain the second reaction, which has been at the institutional level. More and more organizations are either mandating vaccines or making the unvaccinated pay a price for their choice. The National Football League notified teams that any coronavirus outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeits. The American Medical Association, the American Nursing Association and 55 other groups have called for requiring all health-care workers to be vaccinated to continue working. On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first federal agency to mandate vaccinations for its health-care workers.
One senses that this is the tip of the iceberg:
As long as infection rates were trending downward, institutions seemed reluctant to mandate vaccinations. With vaccine-resistant politicians on the defensive right now, however, that is no longer the case. If even deep-red politicians are blasting their unvaccinated constituents, then more skittish politicians might decide to be more vocal in their frustrations as well.
The good news is that vaccine hesitancy in the United States is continuing to decline (though not as rapidly as in other countries). Approval of the mRNA vaccines for younger children, expected in September or October, will also increase the share of vaccinated Americans. Hopefully, these combined efforts will jump-start a vaccination effort that has stalled out.