In December, Arizona Republican state Rep. Mark Finchem suffered from flu-like symptoms—headache, fatigue, body aches and chills. But it wasn’t the flu; he tested positive for covid-19. Nearly three months later, his mother, who had recently contracted the coronavirus, died after battling throat cancer for over 40 years.
Those circumstances weren’t enough to persuade Finchem, who is in his early 60s, to get a Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson covid-19 vaccine. Finchem remains skeptical, he said, because he distrusts the federal government and top public health officials, he’s heard mixed messages about the vaccines on social media and television news, and he worries about long-term side effects.
“I’m very suspicious that what they put in the [vaccines] is nothing more than a cocktail,” Finchem said in a phone call with Stateline. “Time will tell, and I hope I’m proven wrong.”
As federal and state government entities ramp up vaccination efforts, polls show increased confidence in vaccines, especially among people of color, who have been disproportionately affected by covid-19 and were, at least initially, more skeptical of the vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy persists across all demographics, however.
About 13 percent of American adults don’t want a covid-19 vaccine, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Republicans are the most resistant; nearly 3 in 10 say they don’t want one. The share is greater among rural, Republican men, 35 percent of whom don’t want to get a vaccine. [Two polls released this week show refusal rates to be even higher: A Quinnipiac University poll shows that 45 percent of Republicans “don’t plan” on getting a vaccine, and a Monmouth University survey found 43 percent of Republicans “likely will never” get vaccinated.]
So far, more than 200 million complete doses of covid-19 have been administered in the United States, which amounts to about 34 percent of U.S. adults being fully vaccinated. The percentage of vaccinated adults needed to reach herd immunity is widely debated, but many scientists say the country must top 80 percent of the adult population. And to achieve that goal, public health officials say, it is important to alleviate concerns among all people.
To that end, many state and county health departments have made special efforts to reach Black, Hispanic, homebound and unhoused populations that have been hit hard by the pandemic. By contrast, few, if any, have mounted Republican-specific initiatives to combat hesitancy.
There are a variety of reasons why people decline to be vaccinated, said Howard Gamble, administrator for the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department in West Virginia. Gamble recalled a father who recently brought his 17-year-old daughter to get vaccinated. When Gamble asked the father whether he also wanted his first dose, the man’s response was, “I just don’t do these kinds of things.” Persistent misinformation on social media about the coronavirus and vaccines can drive people from getting inoculated, Gamble said.
“It’s not very simplistic or cut and dry,” Gamble said. “We see a lot of reasons.”
Like Finchem, the Arizona lawmaker, many Republican men interviewed by Stateline said they were concerned about side effects, or said they distrusted federal health agencies and the government. Finchem, like most Republicans, doesn’t believe that President Joe Biden’s victory in the November election was legitimate, for example. Some of the GOP men said vaccine manufacturers were just interested in making money.
And many of them are in positions of leadership and influence.
For North Dakota Republican state Rep. Rick Becker, hesitancy isn’t the reason for his hang-ups about vaccines, he said. Becker, a plastic surgeon, said he doesn’t plan to be vaccinated because he knows he is healthy and that there is only a small chance that the coronavirus would kill him. Becker, 56, says he does not have any preexisting health conditions and thinks his choice will not affect others.
“People should be making up their own minds,” he said. “If a person is choosing to look at elected officials, they’re not afforded the proper diligence of their own decision. You do what’s best for you.”
State Rep. Brady Williamson, a 44-year-old Republican from Mississippi, said he’s unsure whether he’ll get a vaccine because it hasn’t been out for a long time. He also argued that he doesn’t need it because he is “in the gym and fit” and doesn’t have underlying health conditions. He said he doesn’t like the government to make decisions for individuals, businesses and churches.
At 70 years old, longtime Georgia state Rep. Tommy Benton said it would be foolish for him and others in his age group to turn down a vaccine. Benton, who doesn’t have underlying health conditions, didn’t want to catch covid-19 or transmit it to his grandkids or peers, he said.
“It doesn’t matter how healthy you are. At…65 or above, you might end up getting sick with this disease and it’ll be more than your 65-or-above system can handle,” Benton said.
Wyoming state Rep. Daniel Zwonitzer, 41, who lives in the most vaccine-hesitant state in the country, said he took a vaccine for the safety of others, particularly for the older staff, legislators and volunteers in the Wyoming legislature. While Zwonitzer believes in freedom and liberty, he said, he also believes in public health. Zwonitzer does not have any preexisting health conditions, he noted.
He said a few of his Republican colleagues think covid-19 and vaccines against it are a hoax, but he disagreed, pointing out that one of his fellow Republicans died from the disease.
Some Republican men and health officials cited the politicization of mask-wearing and shutdowns under former President Donald Trump’s administration, and its downplaying of the seriousness of the pandemic, as causes for the vaccine hesitancy among conservatives.
Early last year, the Trump administration made false claims that the coronavirus had been contained and covid-19 infections were declining, despite statistics showing rising numbers.
The counties that are most vaccine-hesitant are rural, more likely to support Trump and have lower income levels and college graduation rates, The New York Times recently reported. In these rural, more Republican-leaning areas, health officials said, vaccine supply often exceeds demand. [Last week for the first time in Flagler, County Health Department Chief Bob Snyder said supply began exceeding demand in Flagler, a county where 60 percent voters cast a ballot for Trump last November.]
Debra Furr-Holden, an epidemiologist at Michigan State University’s School of Public Health, said many Republican men have taken cues from party leaders, who spent months last year downplaying the pandemic’s effects.
“They were covid deniers when the pandemic first started and aren’t willing to admit, ‘Hey, we were wrong,’” Furr-Holden said. “They’re thinking, ‘So if it was no big deal, why should getting the vaccine be a big deal?’”
Some top Republican leaders, meanwhile, have more recently urged those who are hesitant to take the vaccines.
“I can say as a Republican man, as soon it was my turn, I took the vaccine,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at a news conference in March. “I would encourage all Republican men to do that.”
Trump did get vaccinated, quietly and not in front of cameras, shortly before leaving office in January. Last month, in a Fox News interview, he urged unvaccinated Americans to get shots. “I would recommend it, 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,” he said.
“We have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also,” he said. “But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works.”
But nearly 80 percent of Republicans said Trump’s endorsement would not make them more likely to get a vaccine, according to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Republican men Stateline interviewed said Trump’s support of the vaccine did not sway their decisions.
Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Kentucky, a 50-year-old physician, said instead of shaming people who are reluctant to get vaccinated, it’s crucial to understand their concerns. He said he spends a lot of time dispelling myths about vaccines among his constituents, patients and community.
“As a doctor, I remind my colleagues that when we prescribe or recommend a course of action for somebody, no matter what the disease or prevention is, if people become resistant or hesitant, our medical code of ethics doesn’t say to humiliate,” he said. “You reassure and educate them.”
He added that a lot of people are fearful when politics is involved, because “people pick sides instead of picking the message.”
Public health experts also have stressed the need to focus outreach efforts on science. An analysis published in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed health journal, stated that when “science and values, not politics, inform public health,” it “unlocks potential for higher vaccine coverage.”
Daniel Salmon, one of the report’s authors and director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, elaborated in an interview. Instead of trying to persuade people to get vaccinated, he said, public health officials should sit down with community members and tell them, “‘This is what we know, and this is what we don’t know, and this is what we’re doing to figure out what we don’t know.’ It has to come from trusted leaders. It has to be well-informed. That’s the way it’s done, one community at a time.”
The de Beaumont Foundation, a Maryland-based charitable foundation focused on health solutions, held a two-hour session with a focus group in March that found messaging helps to build trust. The group consisted of almost 20 people who identified as conservative Republicans who supported Trump.
“We found that we’re able to [increase vaccine confidence] by really delivering the facts and giving people the freedom to make the choice,” Brian Castrucci, an epidemiologist and president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, told Stateline. “You can read the facts all day, but if they seem to perceive you are trying to manipulate their decision or if you’re threatening their freedom, walls go up that aren’t easily undone.”
The Casper-Natrona County Health Department in Wyoming learned through surveys that accessibility, technology and education issues hindered some people from getting shots. After hearing from Republican men, Bloom said, officials learned that many were concerned about vaccine technology and how it works.
The Spokane, Washington, office of the federal Department of Veterans Affairs also is tailoring its approach to community concerns. It currently drives a mobile unit through rural Washington, Idaho and Montana to deliver vaccinations to rural veterans, many of whom are Republican men, even though most veterans contacted by the office have said they don’t want the shots, according to The Washington Post.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services plans to get more Republicans and conservatives vaccinated by partnering with trusted leaders, expanding its mobile vaccinations and hosting virtual community town halls to answer questions about vaccine safety and effectiveness, reported Bridge Michigan.
At the national level, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services announced the “We Can Do It” campaign to combat vaccine hesitancy. The Ad Council and covid Collaborative rolled out an education campaign specifically for religious groups and conservative Americans. The campaign focuses on how clinical trials were conducted, the science of the development, and support of covid-19 vaccines by doctors.
The initiative uses social media, celebrity influencers, advertisements and partnerships with rural, medical and faith-based organizations to reach these groups.
Castrucci praised the work of the Ad Council, but said it needs to be complemented by an on-the-ground perspective from local pastors, doctors and families.
“Concern should be normalized. At the end of the day, everyone wants information. … We have to make sure the messaging works for the people that are getting the messages.”
–Aallyah Wright, Stateline
Just get the vaccine already. If you are a veteran who has been overseas, we have been vaccinated for diseases we never even heard of, so this one is no big deal. Just get it. You will be protecting yourself, your family, your friends. FYI , I have had no ill effects from the Pfizer vaccine.
All vaccines were released as experimental! remember!
wont take any thing that effects my RNA! zombie land in a few years. Haha
j&j is a maybe.
99.1 percent of all death happened in people with Preexisting conditions.
if you have a PEC get the shot.
that’s funny,…. because all i’ve heard is its the minorities who dont trust the government.BUT we all KNOW you spin EVERYTHING your way to fit your way!
Deborah Coffey says
You “heard” wrong. There are plenty of data and facts. Try some.
Mary Koonce says
Less Rebuplicans to vote!!!!!!!
Oh yes the peaceful and loving left. All for unity…..
Jack DeRipper says
I’ve never seen a group of people more consumed with hate since 1933
Deborah Coffey says
Okay. So, we’ve got 3 to 5 more years of Covid and its variants. At that time, almost the entire country will be Democrats because the Republicans who just “don’t like the federal government” (unless their Trumpy is in charge) will be dead from the virus. We will finally have the country we want. Patience.
David Schaefer says
What a bunch of idiots that all can come down with Covid . Karma will get them in the end……
Eugene Hartke says
One would think that these people would follow the example of their Lord-Savior, who despite downplaying the virus for months, got himself vaccinated back in January. I guess he’s a bit more intelligent than his followers.
We are reaching herd immunity through adults , teens and people who have bend infected and now immune
The Truth says
You are not immune if you’ve had COVID
Linda H. says
@The Truth, and let us remember we are not immune with the shot, either. Stop minding your neighbor’s business and take care of yourselves.
So, Republican men are afraid of needles, just proves my point that most of these idiots never served in any Branch of Military Service. You didn’t have the option when I served and I’m sure it’s still that way today. Chicken Hawks never change, just continue to flap and flutter their wings.
Yea, their great white leader never did! Came down with bone Spurs – at least on paper…let ‘em all contract the rona and make this world a better place.
Toto your current great white leader Joe Biden was a draft dodger too.
Deborah Coffey says
No, he actually had a medical deferment for asthma…not for “made up” bone spurs.
Based on our research, the claim that Biden received five draft deferments is TRUE. He was granted five deferments as a student before he received a medical exemption for asthma. Similarly, Trump was granted four deferments as a student before his exemption for bone spurs.
Bottom line – Both draft dodgers.
Hurry, have your left wing paper blame Trump. Let’s face it, People don’t trust the government to do anything right.
Theres no blame just a choice. And if factual then only yourself to blame provided something happens like you contract C19 and get sick or worse. Ask Ted Nugent what he thinks lol
Hate to tell this wayward author but its not just republicans that are refusing to not take the vaccine. A whole lot of Democrats are not taking it either. They think its some “depopulation” plan driven by the ‘Great Reset’. I think both parties are just plan nuts.
IF they don’t believe in Science, I wonder if they still go to a Doctor????????
Do they realize that Doctors study Science….?
Trailer Bob says
My reason for not taking the covid vaccine is simple…I don’t put any drugs in my system, and that is my choice.
I have survived many flu’s in my 65 years on earth. I believe more people die from being in cars, but I still drive.
Please stop telling people what they should do. You want the vaccine? go get it. Anyone who wants it can get it.
Don’t worry about me, though I thank you for your concern.
Rich Santo says
It is fine Bob when your actions only affect you. Then it is okay to do what you want. But unfortunately, with most infections, you can be an asymptomatic (you understand that word Bob?) carrier and therefore infect many others.
So you by exercising your freedom to choose have potentially taken parents away from their children.
Palm coaster says
Fine looking high horse there, Rich. Unfortunately your condescending tone makes you sound more ignorant, not less. IF a you had read about this vax at all you would see it does not prevent transmission, only lessens symptoms.
Deborah Coffey says
On the other hand, knowing giving HIV to someone is a felony. So, there’s that.
Sooooo, you have the right to drink.
But, you don’t have the right to drink and drive and endanger others.
Your choice not to get the Vaccine endangers others…
It’s not about you!
Trailer Bob says
Trust me sweetheart, you don’t have to worry about getting sick from me, as I NEVER enter the populated areas that you most likely live in. You probably couldn’t afford the gas money to visit my home. If you chose to live in a populated area, that’s you choice. But don’t comment on others whom you know little about. And I don’t go to brick and mortar shopping centers. Funny how that works when you ASSUME you know everything based simply on how you live. I will pray for you…lol
It amazes me that the Republican supporters of Trump refuse to get vaccinated. Yes Trump and his wife got the vaccine before they left the White House in January. So for those idiots that refuse to get vaccinated. Ask Scott, Rubio, DeSantis if they got vaccinated and I would be their answer is YES.
So for those Republican worshipers of Donald Trump who is the fool? When you come down with the virus because of your ignorance call Donald to help you try to breathe in the ER Room and guess what he won’t be there to help you.
Trump took the shots. I am a Trump and DeSantis supporter and I am getting my second shot this morning. MAGA
Clue me in on in what capacity you are supporting Trump. He is a former Ex President now a Civilian. Financial support ? what? cI dont get it.
As an independent, I have never donated money to a campaign, local or otherwise. My support is to talk the positive points, not like the slanderous comments I read here. I try to persuade by talking about his accomplishments not so much slandering the left or as a few do here by showing their oozing hatred even now he is a former prez (Former Ex President??? I don’t get it. Has he passed away? They’ve shown on a daily basis, for years now that they say they are one thing and do the opposite. The one thing they do better than the right is band together and all agree to their own BS. Say this and do that, like there is no crisis at the border. What a load of crap.
Fernando Melendez says
It’s a simple decision made on a personal level. To each its own what’s the big deal. I respect those that do and those that don’t.
NPR ran this negative poll that stated Republican men were more likely to refuse the vaccine in March 2021. Kolina Koltai, a vaccine misinformation researcher at Univ. of Washington was part of the poll , Democrats were not mentioned. The findings of the polls insinuated that Republican men and those who live outside of cities were the people most likely to refuse the vaccine.
Very slanted polls for sure. Just another attempt by Democrats to insult Republicans.
Vaxed and happy says
The republicans are so ignorant they make it too easy to insult them.
I am astonished at the level of nastiness on this thread. Getting a vaccine is a personal choice. The refusal comes in various forms, what if you have had Covid? Why would you want a vaccine for it if you’ve had it? Someone may not believe in vaccines at all and has never had one. Others may have done research on the Covid vaccine and just don’t want to be a part of it. I personally have never gotten a flu vaccine, so why would I want this vaccine. I also had Covid in February 2020 before it was a huge deal. Covid has a 99+% survivabilty rate. The people claiming otherwise are getting the false narrative the mainstram media wants you to believe. Do some research folks. Don’t use Google or its affiliates. Try duckduckgo.com. Also remember to be kind and respectful of others.
Jack DeRipper says
Too bad we can’t have more level-headed responses like this.
Trailer Bob says
Thank you! I am 65 and never took a vaccine in my life…also never been sick other than a cold and sinus issues.
Each to their own. I will not wear a mask, but I also do not leave the woods that I live in (in a house of coarse). I am actually more concerned about someone running a red light and killing me…lol.
K. Perkins says
You make a lot of comments on this posting. Are you like Trump saying that COVID 19 is no big deal? 630,000 plus dead, no big deal? Let that sink in to your slanted brain!
A lot of us who are now ‘survivors’ of the Polio, Swine Flu, Tetanus, Diptheria, Cholera, Hepatitis eras, and then serving in Military combat situations know it’s about survival. We had military shot records that were a foot long. Never a wimper. Never crying for Mommy. It was/is called, “Survival of the fittest”.
Seriously, in this era of COVID, grow up and stop the temper tantrums. You look and act like 6-year-old children.
“Mommy, I am afraid. Please don’t make get another shot. It hurts!”
SERIOUSLY!! It’s your choice. The cemeteries are full of dead naysayers.
Mike Cocchiola says
I’d be more forgiving of anti-vaxxers if I could avoid them. Wearing their MAGA hats would help. I’ll still play it safe by masking up even though I’ve gotten my shots. Sooner or later the anti-vaxxers will be weeded out by the virus so the rest of us can go about our business without fear.
So why is this going on? Are you saying that our Military is made up of republicans? Don;t Democrats volunteer to defend out country? Thinks that make you say hmmmmmmm…..
(CNN)Despite a massive effort by the Pentagon to promote the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, the US military’s opt-out rate for vaccinations may be far higher than the 33% figure defense officials have used publicly.
Conversations with military medical officials and service members, as well as data from several bases and units around the country, suggest the current rejection rate may be closer to 50%.
When you get old enough – join the Corps. You learn to think! A GI’s first oath is to defend the Constitution at all costs. “I am prepared to give my life in its defense”. What is understood, there is no such thing; Republican or Democrat.
When it comes around to standing those long lines to get your shot record up to date, and you ‘decide’ not to get it. Don’t be too surprised when you are assigned permanent 12 hour Guard Duty 8pm to 8am walking the perimeter and listening and watching for ghosts. The military is designed to not to be a democracy. Do or die.
You learn in a hurry who your friends were and how they lost you.
Semper fi Troop!
Concerned Citizen says
My body My choice. My busniess not yours.
I’m neither Replubican or a Trumper.
I need to see more evidence that these rushed to production vaccines are 100% safe. Already news reports of issues with some of them. But yeah let’s automatically blame political views.
I’m more concerned about possible blood clots. And the longevity of the effectiveness of the vaccine.
Discussing Covid19 is getting just as dangerous as discussing politics. You’re automatically qrong unless your views mesh with those of others.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Just imagine if this anti vaccine mentality prevailed when the Polio vaccine came out. Many of us would be crippled or not here on this earth. Several of my friends have come up with every reason of their own why they refuse to be vaccinated yet every one of them had their polio shot as a child..
I just lost a dear friend of mine for over 50 years 2 days ago. He took every precaution; spent most of his time at home. No, he was not the healthiest person on this planet but COVID made sure he no longer has to worry about his ‘underlying health conditions’. His grown sons are not allowed attend his funeral in Venezuela.
How very sad and yes how very selfish in my opinion are those, including my own friends. who really don’t care about protecting others as their top priority.
Trailer Bob says
My father had a polio shot when he was young, and still got polio. Today he has no signs of the disease. There are lot of drunk drivers on the road also…yet we all still drive. Life is short…live it while you can. You will never be able to control others…
Linda H. says
Interesting…I wasn’t asked what my political affiliation was. I suspect that might be a violation of privacy.
I couldnt get the vaccine fast enough. I also get Flu shots and receiving Pneumonia and Shingles Vaccinations in next two years. Each to their own.
Linda H. says
Who knew the meanness would be deadlier than the virus? Listen to yourselves, please.