CORONAVIRUS VACCINE

Why has the demand for vaccines decreased in some states of the country?

Everyone 16 and older can get vaccintaed but as the rate of vaccines able to be distributed increases, some states are facing declining demand.

Why has the demand for vaccines decreased in some states of the country?
VALENTIN FLAURAUD AFP

Vaccine hesitancy -- a social phenomenon many public health experts warned about may begin to impact the speed at which the United States is able to reach herd immunity through a widespread inoculation campaign.

Recent polling that shows a sizable number of people are unwilling to get vaccinated, just as rates that vaccines are able to be manufactured increase. While, back in January and February there were more people eager to be vaccinated, there were fewer doses. Now, there are more doses, and fewer people signing up to receive their shot. This situation forms logistical hurdles for vaccines like the ones produced by Pfizer and Moderna that must be kept in special refrigerators at extremely cold temperatures. Vaccine hesitancy also stunts progress towards reaching herd immunity.

What vaccination rates are needed to reach herd immunity?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, between 50-80% of residents in the United States would need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity. The results of a Quinnipiac University poll released on 14 April found that more than a quarter, twenty-seven percent, of respondents stated that they did not plan to get vaccinated. While such high levels of vaccine skepticism are concerning, the poll still found a sizable percent of the population that plans or has already been vaccinated; meaning that reaching herd immunity could still be possible.

Which groups are more likely to go without a vaccine?

The Quinnipiac poll showed that fifty percent of Republicans planned or already had been vaccinated, compared to 91 percent of Democrats. Complicating matters are the findings that Republicans are more likely to oppose state wide mask mandates and more likely to feel safe traveling on an airplane that is full or attend a large sporting event.

One of the main groups that are overrepresented in the “do not plan to vaccinate” group are Trump supporters. Reporting by the New York Times found that “both willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect former President Donald J. Trump in 2020.”

During his presidency and after, former President Trump boasted about how his administration helped to ensure that vaccinations would be able to start early this year. However, the vast misinformation spread on covid-19 may have had a disproportionate effect on people’s willingness to get a vaccine. Some public health experts, like Dr. Lisa Cooper director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, who was interviewed by the New York Times, stated that “she was not surprised that conservative-leaning people might be less likely to want a vaccine” and that the results are predicable based on the fact that “these are people who were fed untruths about how this virus wasn’t real.”

In late March, during an interview with Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo, former President Trump did recommend that his supporters get vaccinated while also validating that respect for individual freedoms was necessary, “And I would recommend it to a lot of people that don't want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that also. But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works.”

How are public health officials responding to this news?

On Monday, 19 April, during an interview with CBS This Morning, White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci described the rates of Republicans unwilling to receive a vaccine as, “disturbing”.

Dr. Fauci went on to say that a critical task now for public health experts is convincing people who are hesitant that getting vaccinated is our best shot at bringing the pandemic to an end. To help in the persuasion effort, Dr. Fauci mentioned the deployment of “thousands of clergy, athletes and other respected members of local communities”, to help increase the levels of vaccination across the board.

Support from policymakers and communications experts to identify innovative ways to build trust with the public will also be needed.