The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The effort to contain the coronavirus with vaccines is about to get harder

Once again, partisanship plays a role

Republicans who support coronavirus vaccines but oppose vaccine mandates have blamed President Biden for the 2021 coronavirus death toll in recent weeks. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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It has been the case since the beginning of the year that there is a segment of the public unwilling to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. It is also the case that most of those who have not yet received a dose of the vaccine are Republicans, as data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) has repeatedly made clear.

You can see that opposition in KFF’s new polling, released on Thursday. Most Republicans have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine — but more than a quarter say they will not. Partisanship is the deepest demographic divide on the question of vaccination, deeper than race or income.

In its new polling, KFF offers an additional dimension of bad news on the subject. Not only are Republicans more hesitant to get an initial dose of a vaccine, they are similarly more hesitant to get a booster dose. About 3-in-10 fully vaccinated Republicans say they won’t or probably won’t get a booster — meaning that as their protection from their prior vaccinations fades, they will be left at more risk of contracting the virus.

Most concerning: More than a quarter of fully vaccinated Republicans aged 50 or over say they won’t get a booster. Older people, of course, are the group most at risk from covid-19. By contrast, nearly 9 in 10 fully vaccinated Democrats 50 or over say they’ve either gotten a booster dose or definitely will. Only 6 in 10 fully vaccinated Republicans in that age group say the same thing.

The math indicated by the KFF data suggests that fewer than half of Republicans will soon have received three doses of a vaccine, given that only two-thirds of the fully vaccinated plan to get a booster and only 60 percent of Republicans have gotten a first dose anyway.

This data comes even as we continue to learn how effective the vaccines are at preventing infection and negative health effects in the event a vaccinated person does contract the virus. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state health departments in California and New York show similar effectiveness from vaccinations.

All three sets of data suggest that someone who’s fully vaccinated is at least five times less likely to contract the virus, 10 times less likely to be hospitalized because of covid-19 and more than 10 times less likely to die. (The CDC has that as 14 times less likely, but the figures from California are slightly lower.)

In other words, even as we learn more about how the vaccines protect people from the virus, we also learn that a segment of the population is resistant to expanding that protection.

On Wednesday, I wrote about how the pandemic has been disproportionately damaging this year to areas of the country that supported President Donald Trump in last year’s election. Those are also areas of the country where vaccination rates are lower. We can’t say that politics are the sole reason that vaccination rates are lower or that low vaccination rates are the sole reason those parts of the country were harder hit. We can say, though, that individual choices not to get vaccinated or to get a booster will disproportionately harm those individuals — and that most of those people at this point are Republicans.