Who’s Skipping the Vaccine? The Answer May Surprise You

Big media has been in overdrive pushing COVID vaccinations, at least after Joe Biden was ensconced in the White House. Remember that when Donald Trump was still president, the vaccines were suspect, simply because Trump played a major role in their development and rollout.

Before the election, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were vaccine-hesitant.  Both cast doubt on the COVID vaccines, still in clinical trials last fall. Biden said, “I trust vaccines. I trust scientists. But I don’t trust Donald Trump.” Did he believe Trump was cooking up the vaccines in the White House basement, the sole decision-maker regarding approval, ignoring the pharmaceutical companies creating the vaccines, overseen, and ultimately approved by the FDA, not the president?

Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, cast similar doubt saying, "I would not trust Donald Trump and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he's talking about. I will not take his word for it.” Again, it is the FDA, not the White House that is charged with approving vaccines.

Trump can say what he wants but if the regulatory authorities say otherwise, that’s as far as it goes toward approval or usage. Look at hydroxychloroquine as an example.

In a hyper-politicized country, Americans tend to believe those with whom they identify politically. Hence those on the right supporting hydroxychloroquine as a therapeutic and those on the left, like Fox News's Neil Cavuto, saying “it will kill you.” If the future president and vice president were vaccine-hesitant, expect many Americans to adopt that view.

Once there was a new occupant in the White House, the vaccine narrative flipped and the administration embraced the new vaccines as if Biden and Harris conceived of and developed them, rather than having the vaccines and a robust rollout dropped on their laps when they strolled into the White House.

At present, the U.S. is 51 percent fully vaccinated. While that may not seem like success, if you break it down the numbers are more favorable. 62 percent of adults and 81 percent of the elderly are fully vaccinated. Another segment of the population has natural immunity based on having had COVID. Given natural infection as a second and more robust pathway toward herd immunity, America has done well.

Certainly better than countries like New Zealand, with only 24 percent of adults fully vaccinated and very little natural immunity as they are an island nation that has been largely cut off from the world for the past 18 months. Their population is being hit by COVID now with the inevitable surge in cases once this highly contagious virus variant got a foothold in the country.

Who isn’t yet vaccinated in America and why? There is vaccine hesitancy, which according to Wikipedia “is a delay in acceptance, or refusal of vaccines despite the availability of vaccine services.” It’s not simple and straightforward, either. “Vaccine hesitancy is complex and context specific, varying across time, place and vaccines. It is influenced by factors such as complacency, convenience, a fear of needles, or a lack of understanding about how vaccines work.”

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Hesitancy is relative resistance, in comparison to those who are genuinely anti-vaccine, refusing any and all vaccines. A vaccine-hesitant person may be O.K. with routine childhood immunizations or a flu shot, but not the COVID or shingles vaccines. An anti-vaxxer would say 'no' to all of the above.

Leaving aside the rationale or flaws behind these views, who are the vaccine-hesitant and why? The media has reported on this group and, not surprisingly, their characterizations may be inaccurate.

Last March, Forbes reported that 49 percent of Republican men and 47 percent of Trump supporters will refuse any vaccine, setting the narrative for who is to blame now for the delta variant surge. Unknown then but known now is that the vaccines don’t prevent infection or transmission. According to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky: “Vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus."

Former CIA and NSA Director General Michael Hayden agrees with Forbes and his intelligence expertise leads him to conclude that Trump supporters are “our Taliban” and that “the MAGA wearing unvaxxed” deplorables should be sent to Afghanistan, presumably to be left to the whims of the real Taliban. I wonder if he wants unvaxxed Democrats, including blacks, of whom the majority are unvaxxed, to be sent to their deaths in Afghanistan?

The vaccines do however reduce the risk of severe illness and death, allowing many to suffer milder infection, gaining natural immunity, and pushing the country closer to herd immunity where COVID becomes a seasonal nuisance like influenza.

What is the media not saying about the vaccine-hesitant?

As reported in Summit News, “A new report by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh has found that the most highly educated Americans are also the most vaccine hesitant.” This was not a survey of a few hundred, but of 5 million Americans.

They found a U-shaped curve with the greatest hesitancy among the least and most educated. “The most common concern for those who are hesitant to take the vaccine is potential side effects, with a lack of trust in government close behind in second."

So much for the media narrative that only the missing-teeth, knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal Trump supporters are against vaccination.

Political party affiliation does not account for this as those with doctoral degrees tend to vote Democrat. Pew Research found, “highly educated adults also increasingly have liberal attitudes and values.” Why not with vaccines?

A decision to be vaccinated involves looking at evidence, scientific studies and their validity, weighing risks and benefits, then arriving at a decision. This is the scientific method, something that most people with advanced degrees are quite familiar with. Are they seeing red flags in their analysis that the less-scrutinizing, including the media, are missing? Maybe they are thoughtfully, rather than blindly, following and questioning the science.

For the uneducated, they may be more susceptible to conspiracy theories. Or perhaps they just mistrust the government and heavy-handed vaccine mandates which burden lower socio-economic groups far more than the Uber Eats and Whole Foods crowds that seem to do just fine under even the most draconian lockdowns and mandates.

Public trust in government is quite low, at 24 percent, according to Pew Research. If the government says to take the vaccine, three of four may question that. Is that vaccine-hesitancy or government hesitancy?

Another group, not mentioned as vaccine-hesitant, is blacks. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the white vaccination rate is 1.3 times higher than for blacks. This is not education level-related but instead may be a mistrust of “government benevolence,” a remnant of the Tuskegee syphilis studies where the U.S. government withheld disease treatment in blacks as an experiment to learn the natural history of syphilis.

Blacks also voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden and the Democrats. In exchange, their neighborhoods and businesses were destroyed by Democrat-backed BLM riots and police defunding. Their distrust of government may be well justified.

To be clear, for the benefit of any reader eager to report this article and author to the medical licensing board as being anti-vaccine, this is not medical advice for or against the vaccine. Instead, it is a commentary on who is vaccine-hesitant and why, an important public health concern if widespread vaccination is the goal.

Rather than painting with a broad brush and making vaccine-hesitancy a political issue, the media should explore who is actually hesitant and why. Name-calling, condescension, and disparaging criticism will not win converts who have legitimate concerns. This is especially relevant after flip-flopping narratives, as in one month being told if you get vaccinated you no longer need to wear a mask, then the next month being told to mask up, even if outside and even if you are vaccinated.  

Regardless of motivations, disparate groups of Americans, independent of political affiliation, are vaccine-hesitant, contrary to the media narrative. It’s a public health disservice for the media to politicize everything, including the COVID vaccines.


Brian C Joondeph is a physician and writer.

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