Then there are the two groups largely resistant to the vaccines: those who say they’d get vaccinated only if required for work, school or travel and those who say they wouldn’t get it, no matter what. Over the course of the year, those two groups have been about a fifth of the total, leading to an enormous amount of attention being paid to those who expressed the most resistance.
It’s starting to look as though the boundary between “never” and “if required” was more porous than poll respondents might have indicated.
Various employers, including the federal government, implemented vaccine requirements or new vaccine standards in recent months, setting deadlines that have started to arrive. What we’ve seen is that relatively few employees flat out resist vaccination. In a number of examples collected by The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake this week, only about 1 to 2 percent of employees preferred losing their jobs to getting vaccinated. At the Department of Defense, one of the first major employers to issue a mandate, 95 percent of service members have reportedly gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.
Given that 12 percent of respondents in KFF’s most recent poll said they would never get vaccinated (compared with only 4 percent who said they’d do so if required), it certainly seems as if some of the resistance to vaccination expressed to the pollsters eroded when a requirement was actually put in place.
This is hard to verify, of course. Just because 12 percent of Americans nationally say they’d never get a vaccine dose doesn’t mean that translates perfectly to 12 percent resistance at every employer. It may be the case either that the places that implemented mandates are more likely to have employees who aren’t resistant to vaccination or the places where deadlines have arrived are disproportionately unlikely to have such employees. (It’s not the case that the vaccine-resistant are largely out of the workforce, say, through retirement; KFF’s polling shows that it’s younger, not older, Americans who are most skeptical about the vaccines.)
What seems likely, though, is that the hypothetical scenario offered by pollsters — would you quit if asked to get a vaccine dose? — yields a level of bravado that collapses when the question is actually asked.
It’s probably useful to recognize that these new requirements have also overlapped with the surge in new cases that followed the spread of the delta variant this summer. The rate of new vaccinations per day started to plunge in April as new case numbers did. But when cases started to surge again, new vaccinations picked up. States that saw the fastest surges in new cases saw new vaccination rates increase more quickly.
We can visualize that a bit differently. From May 1 to the beginning of the fourth surge in cases in late June, both new vaccinations per day (vertical axis) and new cases (horizontal) were dropping. Then the surge began, as new vaccination numbers continued to fall. Then, as the surge gained speed, vaccinations picked back up. In recent weeks, as the surge has peaked, vaccination rates are heading back down.
Many of the vaccine mandates overlapped with that surge, a period when many people were already being spurred to seek out vaccines anyway. That’s not entirely coincidental, given that the fourth wave of cases was a trigger for the new sense of urgency in the federal government and among employers.
Again, though, we’re seeing that being required to get a vaccine dose by your employer has led to the vast majority of people getting vaccinated. Those who may have been obstinate about the vaccines when called by a pollster seem to have been a bit more flexible when called by their bosses.