Biden Up Against Entrenched Republican Vaccine Resistance

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The disturbing Omicron strain heightens the urgency of President Joe Biden’s months-long campaign to provide Americans with coronavirus vaccine. He is in dire need.

The fact that 78 million Americans continue to refuse vaccines assails everyone who evaluates the medical data for vaccine efficacy. However, historical evidence, backed by the modern Republican Party’s extremists, reveals that vaccine resistance is not a mystery – and that Biden’s endeavor will be a slog even after roughly 800,000 fatalities resulted from Covid-19.

Similar to how they prioritized voting restrictions over safeguarding democratic elections, Republican authorities preferred exploiting the pandemic over putting an end to it. While Republican attorneys general fought vaccine mandates in court, GOP senators threatened last week to shut down the federal government to forestall the mandates – even as other Republicans chastised Biden for failing to manage the pandemic.


Republican Vaccine Refusal Isn’t Exclusively An American Phenomenon, Because…

They sought approval from Republican grassroots activists, who are the nerve center of vaccine refusal. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, virtually 60% of unvaccinated Americans identify as Republicans.

This figure jumped from 42% in April, despite the pandemic’s disproportionately high death toll among Republicans. According to a CNN assessment of Johns Hopkins University data, the risk of death from Covid-19 is 50% higher in states won by ex-President Donald Trump in 2020 contrasted with states he lost.

Republican respondents intimated to the Kaiser Family Foundation that they are 100% sure they will not get vaccinated, relative to independents at 14% and Democrats at 2%. Liz Hamel, director of the Foundation’s polling, said the Republican subset has held steady for a year.

It is a global phenomenon, not a distinctively American. Parts of Europe, notably those characterized by anti-government, populist nationalism pervasive within the Republican Party, such as Germany and Austria, have had low vaccine uptake.

However, those countries and ones with developed economies have vaccinated a greater ratio of their people than the United States, which has vaccinated 60% of its population. Based on data, Germany is at 68%, Austria is at 66%, Australia is at 73%, and Canada is at 76%.

America has been grappling with this issue for almost a century. What Biden now encounters was a source of distress to his predecessors during the campaigns against smallpox, polio, measles, and swine flu.

Elena Conis, a medical historian at the University of California, Berkeley noted that vaccine resistance predates vaccination.

Often, resistance stems from three distinct sources: religious objections, assertions of individual rights, and debates over medical risks. Gallup polling data dating back to the 1957 Asian flu epidemic indicate that Republicans had a greater rate of vaccine resistance.

Since then, the Republicans have evolved into a more resistant entity. Its most powerful constituency — White evangelical Christians, blue-collar workers, and rural people — feel increasingly threatened by 21st-century racial, cultural, and economic shifts and are increasingly antagonistic to well-educated “elites” in government and big cities.

One notable shift: A Gallup poll conducted last summer found that only 45% of Republicans had shown confidence in science, down from 72% in 1975. Democratic and independent independents, respectively, voted 79% and 65% in 2021. Moreover, polls indicate that Republicans are significantly more likely to believe the coronavirus’s risks have been hyped.

Last year, Trump catered to and amplified that sentiment. He argued with public health officials even though complying with them could have aided him politically by curbing the pandemic.

He spearheaded attacks against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert. Trump initially championed vaccine development – and received vaccines himself after surviving Covid-19 – but has since backed away from aggressive vaccination advocacy.


Vaccine Mandate-The Last Resort In Vaccination Playbook

Biden’s vaccination campaign has followed a well-worn script. It begins by facilitating access to shots and then leverages persuasion. In 1956, public health officials drew wary adolescents by showcasing the new polio vaccine to Elvis Presley on television; Biden enlisted pop diva Olivia Rodrigo, among others.

The next phase is to provide actual vaccination incentives, like the $100 payments, Biden urged states to make to previously unwilling vaccine recipients. Mandates enacted by the government should be used cautiously as the last option.

At an October CNN town hall, President Biden said that he had waited until July to discuss mandating because he had exhausted all other options.  

By that time, the Delta variant had rekindled the pandemic following months of declining coronavirus case tallies. According to some experts, such as the Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen hold that earlier mandates could have impeded Delta.

Andy Slavitt, a White House Covid adviser during the administration’s early months argued that If Biden had issued the vaccine mandates earlier, there’s a good chance they would have offended people. Mandates have sparked resistance in previous vaccination efforts.

Government and private-sector mandates have thus far succeeded in nudging the hesitant without shattering their hard-core resistance. Blacks and Hispanics now report receiving at least one dose at a rate comparable to Whites.

Biden announced fresh vaccination measures last week in the hope of averting a winter outbreak. He refrained from mandating proof of vaccination for domestic air travel, which White House officials dread would jam airports, hurt businesses, and enrage voters.

This challenged outside health experts, who assert that vaccination is no longer the last resort for containing the pandemic.

Anna Kirkland, a University of Michigan professor of health policy observed that persuasion is no longer an option.

Nonetheless, as history reveals, even that would only go so far in advancing Biden’s vaccination effort.

Conis suggested that you’d capture as many as possible because usually, that is the best you can accomplish with vaccinations.

Vaccine resistance is not a mystery, and Joe Biden’s effort will be a slog, writes Julian Zelizer. Vaccine refusal is a global phenomenon, not a distinctively American phenomenon, he argues.

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