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Half of US adults will soon be fully vaccinated. Convincing everyone else will be more difficult.

A partisan split is emerging in America’s vaccination rates, but a lack of accessibility might be an even bigger obstacle to herd immunity.

Amilcar Montanez waits for his Covid-19 shot on April 19 in Reading, Pennsylvania.
Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

More than half of US adults have received their first Covid-19 vaccine dose, a remarkable achievement for a country that only began ramping up vaccine distribution at the beginning of 2021.

That comes as the United States is celebrating another important milestone. As of Monday, adults across every state are now eligible to book a vaccine appointment. Mass availability of vaccines ought to bring life closer to normal; and indeed, there are signs of the economy being in recovery. But what is less clear is whether everyone eligible for a vaccine will get one.

A national Monmouth University Poll released last week, but taken before the federal government paused distribution of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, found that 21 percent of all US adults “claim they will never get the vaccine if they can avoid it,” a number relatively unchanged from previous months, indicating that President Joe Biden’s messaging around vaccine safety and importance isn’t resonating with the desired populations.

The pollsters found that age is a factor: Adults under 65 are consistently less likely to say they want the vaccine. But the partisan split is greater. The Monmouth poll found 43 percent of Republicans opposed to getting the vaccine, alongside just 5 percent of Democrats.

An Associated Press analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data found similar numbers: The six states with the most people having received at least one shot (in terms of percentage of the population) were all states Biden won in the 2020 election. The five states with the fewest vaccinated people — where less than 40 percent of the population had received a shot as of last Wednesday — have historically all leaned Republican. The implication being: Republican states and supporters of former President Donald Trump are less likely to get the shot for political reasons.

The president’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, called that idea “disturbing.”

“It’s very disturbing that on the basis of political persuasion, people are not willing to get vaccinated,” Fauci said Monday on CBS This Morning. “I find that really extraordinary because those are the ones that keep saying you’re encroaching on our liberties by asking us to wear masks and to do the kinds of restrictions that are public health issues. The easiest way to get out of that is to get vaccinated. It’s almost paradoxical.”

This comes even after Trump last month publicly encouraged his supporters to get vaccinated, telling Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo that the vaccines were ”great” and “safe.” In a study conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, surveyed Republicans were found to be more likely to be open to vaccination when reminded that all available vaccines were created while Trump was in the Oval Office and that the former president himself is vaccinated.

But the partisan split isn’t all that it seems. Luntz also found that, while Trump’s messaging helped convince certain participants, far more were convinced when given information of the shots’ safety and efficacy from medical professionals. And residents of the GOP-led southern states that have lagged behind in vaccine inoculation are, in some cases, struggling to access shots. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, told Axios that conflating political affiliation with vaccination likelihood is often “not correct” and “really harmful.”

When looking at the state level — as the AP did — Axios’s Caitlin Owens noted Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, the states doing the worst in terms of vaccine distribution, all have sizable Black populations, a group that has for several months been more likely to say they want to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated (although this seems to be changing).

There’s a pressing need to ensure nearly everyone is vaccinated. Ending the pandemic is likely incumbent on the US reaching herd immunity (generally seen as when 70 to 85 percent of the public has some immunity to Covid-19). If the number needed is closer to 85 percent, 21 percent of the public refusing to get a shot could become a problem, causing the pandemic to stretch on and potentially creating more opportunities for dangerous variants to arise.

Because of this pressing need, the Biden administration has signaled its plans to place a renewed focus on vaccine accessibility as it works to convince all Americans that being vaccinated is a good idea.

The vaccination rate remains high

At the moment, vaccinations are proceeding at a really encouraging pace. The United States now administers roughly 3.2 million of them a day, up from 2.5 million a day in March. That rate may soon be bolstered by the reintroduction of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whose distribution was put on hold last week by the CDC and FDA after six women had severe blood-clotting reactions.

“Hopefully, by Friday, we’ll get back on track one way or the other,” Fauci said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.

There is some concern that halting distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may have an effect on the level of trust the public has in it. Fauci said Sunday that the federal government is preparing a campaign to explain federal experts’ findings about the shot, and why it is safe, should it be deemed so.

A similar but broader campaign is being prepared to convince those still hesitant to be inoculated, Axios first reported Sunday. As part of that effort, the White House is expected to give educational resources to thousands of community leaders, including information and materials to distribute that will encourage people to get their shots and show them the places to go.

The Biden administration also plans to partner with social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to send users push notifications informing them of vaccine eligibility and getting doctors in television studios for interviews. Biden is also expected to film a new public service announcement that will continue to promote vaccine uptake.

Overall, hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent by the federal government on a public relations push to get Americans into pharmacies and doctor’s offices.

That’s important, not only so the US can eventually reach herd immunity, but because Covid-19 cases are continuing to rise throughout the country in what experts fear could lead to a fourth wave of cases. The country currently averages 71,000 new cases per day, up from 55,000 last month, according to the New York Times. For the Biden administration and the rest of the country, it’s a race against the clock.

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