The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A quarter of Americans — and a third of Republicans — say they don’t plan to get the coronavirus vaccine

Shawn Brown receives a second dose of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine at a Seattle clinic last month. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

For months and months, President Donald Trump and his allies in conservative media — chief among them the prime-time hosts on Fox News — found it politically useful to disparage government entities combating the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump needed someone to blame for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who had died, a total that by the time he left office was nearly twice the upper limit he had predicted last March. He needed to encourage economic activity to return to normal levels as his reelection loomed, so he disparaged experts’ calls for containment measures. All the while, the pandemic raged, with total cases and deaths in the United States worse as a function of population than nearly anywhere else in the world.

Since Trump left office, the inclination of his media allies to offer skepticism about the government response has not waned. The country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, is still a focus of opprobrium, as he was last year when he had the temerity to suggest that perhaps Trump’s approach to the pandemic was not ideal. Even vaccines — one area in which the government’s efforts last year were an unqualified success — are continually a target of skepticism.

On Monday evening, for example, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson hosted professional skeptic Alex Berenson, who suggested that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidelines for vaccinated Americans were somehow an effort to distract from purported flaws in vaccines.

“Lying begets lying,” Carlson replied. “They should just be honest and we’d trust them.”

Hours later, Monmouth University released new poll data: A quarter of Americans say they will probably never get vaccinated for the virus — including about one-third of Republicans. Doubt begets doubt.

The Monmouth numbers are interesting in part because the top line hasn’t changed much. When the pollsters asked the same question in February, an equal percentage said they didn’t plan to get the vaccine. But a lot of the other numbers changed.

Meet the GOP voters who could decide whether the U.S. reaches herd immunity

For example, there’s an apparent pattern linking the percentage who in February said they would get vaccinated as soon as possible and those who by March actually had received a shot. Overall, the percentage of respondents saying that they would get the vaccine as soon as they could dropped 12 points over the month. The percentage saying they had already received it increased by 10 points.

The percentages of both Democrats and Republicans who said they had gotten the vaccine have increased by more than 10 points since February. Only a quarter of Republicans still say they plan to get vaccinated as soon as they can, down 10 points from February. Those who can are being vaccinated.

There’s one positive switch among Republicans: The density of those saying they’ll probably never get the vaccine is down six points, but the percentage saying they’ll see how the rollout unfolds is up an equivalent percentage. Perhaps this is statistical noise. Or, perhaps, some segment of the Republican population is switching from “No way” to “Well, maybe.”

There’s a clear difference by age as well. Those under 65 were less likely to express enthusiasm for getting vaccinated last month and have been less likely to have received it. Among those over 65, there’s been a massive switch since February from those saying they’re eager to get vaccinated to saying that they already had, reinforcing (and contributing to) the pattern we identified above.

The reason for this is obvious. Coronavirus infections are deadlier for older Americans, no doubt contributing to enthusiasm for vaccine among older Americans, even as they were prioritized for getting shots.

One worrisome note in the poll results is the uptick in skepticism among independents. The increase is small and might be temporary, but it still reflects that 3 in 10 independents don’t plan on getting vaccinated. A central point of vaccinating Americans, of course, is to limit the virus’s spread by protecting more people against it. With sufficient density of protected individuals, the need for other containment measures such as masks and shutdowns is obviated.

Hitting that density, or herd immunity, will almost certainly necessitate a lot of those self-identified skeptics signing up for vaccine. In a speech last month, Trump directly advocated for people to get vaccinated, a request that seems to have had a limited effect. Meanwhile, his erstwhile allies on Fox News are finding it more useful to elevate misinformed assessments to bolster their substantial investment in regarding government with skepticism.