America’s elites are fuelling vaccine hesitancy

Their refusal to open up society has led many to conclude that vaccination is pointless.

Sean Collins
US correspondent

Topics Covid-19 Politics USA

Public-health officials in the US are increasingly concerned about vaccine hesitancy. The number of people receiving a Covid-19 vaccine shot has dropped from just over three million a day in April to about two million a day now. Nearly 20 per cent of Americans say they will ‘definitely not’ get the vaccine or will do so ‘only if required’, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The groups most likely to express vaccine hesitancy are those who live in rural areas, those with conservative views and younger people. Unsurprisingly, the New York Times draws a political conclusion from this: ‘Least vaccinated US counties have something in common: Trump voters.’ Indeed, vaccine hesitancy has become another excuse for Democrats in ‘Blue America’ to voice their contempt for ignorant, selfish Trumpists in ‘Red America’.

But this smugness really isn’t justified. By most objective measures, Red America is coping with Covid better than Blue America. While many red states have removed all government restrictions on social activity (the latest being Florida), many blue-state residents are still living in lockdown. Fewer limits apply to schools in red states as well: kids in red Florida have been in school since last August, learning and giving parents a break, while more than half of blue California’s children remain at home.

As you’d expect, unemployment rates have been much lower in red states than blue states for months. This rosier economic outlook has not been at the expense of health, either. The states with the highest death rates from Covid are New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, while Florida and Texas are in the middle of the pack.

Liberals pride themselves on being more educated than Trump voters, who they believe are misinformed about Covid and everything else. Yet in a recent Gallup survey, Democrats did much worse than Republicans when asked the likelihood of someone with Covid needing to be hospitalised. About 40 per cent of Democrats thought the chances were 50 per cent or more, and another 28 per cent said the likelihood was 20 to 49 per cent. The correct answer is between one and five per cent.

The news is good in America at the moment. A majority of adults have been vaccinated, hospitalisations and deaths are tumbling. Many Americans are now looking forward to a summer of parties, weddings and travel. But not our anxious progressives, who cling ever tighter to pandemic restrictions. As Atlantic writer Emma Green recently put it, these are ‘the liberals who can’t quit lockdown’, a group for whom ‘diligence against Covid-19 remains an expression of political identity’. As one survey found, progressives are ‘the most neurotic’ when it comes to the pandemic.

The wealthy and educated in Brookline in Massachusetts and Montgomery county in Maryland have voted to reintroduce mask mandates, after the governors of their states dropped them. Woke MSNBC presenter Joy Reid has proudly announced that, post-vaccination, she still wears two masks while jogging. In the towns where you’ll see virtue-signalling yard signs, proclaiming ‘IN THIS HOUSE… WE BELIEVE SCIENCE IS REAL’, the people are ignoring science and cowering in fear. ‘Even as scientific knowledge of Covid-19 has increased’, writes Green, ‘some progressives have continued to embrace policies and behaviours that aren’t supported by evidence, such as banning access to playgrounds, closing beaches, and refusing to reopen schools for in-person learning’.

For these liberals, little effort is required to understand why conservatives are sceptical about Covid vaccines. After all, Trump voters are known for being easily duped. ‘These are people who were fed untruths about how this virus wasn’t real’, Dr Lisa Cooper, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, tells the New York Times. ‘I think it is carrying through in the vaccination realm, too.’ It’s not hesitancy, it’s ‘Covid denialism’, says one author, writing off vaccine concerns in the same way that greens dismiss their critics as ‘climate-change deniers’.

In fact, there are many reasons why a minority of Americans remain reluctant to get vaccinated. Some say they are not sure about the vaccine itself: it’s too new and the potential effects are not known. That view might subside over time, as family and friends report that the side effects are minor. Others give pretty rational reasons. Some have already caught Covid and therefore believe they have antibodies. And some, especially younger people, simply believe that even without vaccination their odds of death from Covid-19 are extremely low (which is true).

But one of the most important reasons for vaccine hesitancy is a lack of confidence in the authorities: there are many under-50s who do not trust the elites of the medical profession and political class. This is what journalist Derek Thompson found when he spoke with people reluctant to get vaccinated. The ‘no vaxxer’ outlook, says Thompson, can be summed up as: ‘I trust my own cells more than I trust pharmaceutical goop; I trust my own mind more than I trust liberal elites.’ A broader lack of confidence in political elites has been a factor in vaccine hesitancy as well. ‘Liberals, Democrats and public-health elites have been wrong so often, we’d be better off doing the opposite of almost everything they say’, is how Thompson characterises this view.

Our public officials have earned this lack of trust. From about-turns on guidance (masks were discouraged before they were required) to hypocrisy (politicians flaunting the lockdown rules they imposed on others) to outright political favouritism (BLM protests were exempt from lockdown because ‘racism is a public-health crisis’), the elites have only themselves to blame if people have lost trust in them and ignore their pleas to get a vaccine jab.

Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and Covid guru, Dr Anthony Fauci, recently said it was ‘disturbing’ that Trump voters were choosing to not get vaccinated. ‘We’ve got to dissociate political persuasion from what’s common sense, no-brainer public-health things… What is the problem here?’ Well, in a word, the problem here is you, Dr Fauci. Last December, Fauci admitted that he had, up to then, played down his estimate of what would be required to reach herd immunity, in order to encourage take-up of the vaccine. He had waited until ‘the country is finally ready to hear’ what he ‘really thinks’. Of course, on learning this, most people wondered what else Fauci was being dishonest about.

In an interview last week, Fauci called for ‘trusted messengers’, such as celebrities from the worlds of entertainment and sport, to be enlisted in a campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy. But he might want to ask why he and other leading health experts, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), are not considered ‘trusted messengers’.

Indeed, the CDC has done a lot to undermine its credibility. Two weeks ago the CDC relaxed its guidance somewhat. But it still insisted that vaccinated people must wear masks indoors and outdoors if there’s a crowd – despite no scientific rationale to support these continued restrictions. The CDC then followed up with insane guidance that requires kids at summer camps to wear masks at virtually all times – no matter how cruel it is to impose masks in summer heat, and despite the low risk Covid poses to kids. Then the New York Post revealed that the CDC accepted edits from teachers’ unions to its February guidance on schools, and, as a result, set more onerous conditions for reopening. So at the same time our politicians back up their restrictions on social life by reference to ‘The Science’, our scientific experts are shown to be thoroughly politicised and untrustworthy.

When it comes to public messaging, no platform has a greater audience than a president’s bully pulpit. But Joe Biden is not a persuasive jab advocate. Biden’s more strident message – via both his words and actions – is to keep wearing a mask, even after vaccination. And he takes his mask-wearing to extreme lengths. Last month, the vaccinated president wore his mask on a Zoom summit with world leaders. Last week he wore a mask at an outdoor press conference – to announce new guidance that the vaccinated do not need to wear masks outdoors. Then he declared to NBC News that vaccinated people had a ‘patriotic responsibility’ to continue wearing masks.

Biden’s mask obsession is not just confusing to the public. Insisting on wearing a mask, post-vaccination, undermines confidence in the vaccine itself. It’s as if Biden doesn’t think the vaccine is truly effective, so he needs to continue to mask up to be safe. Biden and the CDC have provided no light at the end of the tunnel that might give people an incentive to get vaccinated. Instead, their message is: even with a vaccine, you will have to wear a miserable mask and limit your interactions in society. Watching these incoherent authorities, it’s no wonder some ask, ‘What’s the point of being vaccinated?’.

As it happens, vaccine hesitancy is not as big a deal as the scaremongers make out. Yes, we do want as many people as possible to get vaccinated, but vaccination does not need to reach 100 per cent of the population in order to make Covid manageable and bring our lives back to normal. Covid impacts the elderly most of all, and here there is great news: 83 per cent of over-65s have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Moreover, as Dr Marty Makarty argues, the focus on vaccinations ignores natural immunity — that is, antibodies from prior infections. About half of the unvaccinated are immune, according to Makarty. When you combine this with the nearly 60 per cent that are vaccinated, it is no wonder the threat posed by Covid is rapidly dwindling.

While it would be ideal to vaccinate as many Americans as possible, the people in charge are more of a hindrance here than a help. With their restrictive policies, the elites have already alienated so many who have been at the sharp end over the past year – the workers kicked out of work, the small businesses that have shut down for good, the parents who have had to double up as teachers at home. Being hectored and shamed about vaccines now by these same elites will only alienate the hesitant minority further. And introducing punitive steps, such as vaccine passports, will most likely trigger a cultural backlash. While it is too late for our political and health authorities to regain trust, the best thing they can do is to stop politicising the pandemic and lift their restrictions, which are no longer justified.

Unfortunately, there are no signs that they will. Biden keeps delaying his projected deadline for easing up – he once promised 4 July, but now he is saying Labor Day in September. Whether it’s Biden, his scientific experts, or his liberal base of support – all are defined by excessive risk-aversion, and they can’t be counted on to bring life back to normal. Instead, they appear ready to engage in a divisive campaign to scapegoat the vaccine-hesitant, and use them as an excuse for postponing normality.

Rather than badger those who are reluctant to get the vaccine, it would be better for us to stop listening to Biden, Fauci and the CDC, take off our masks, and just get on with our lives. They will eventually catch up to us.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Covid-19 Politics USA


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