Global lens

Rejecting the jab: why has the US vaccine roll-out ‘hit a wall’?

It’s a liberal canard that only Fox News-watching conservatives are wary of getting jabbed

“Vaccinated America has had enough,” said David Frum in The Atlantic. The US vaccination programme was galloping along in the spring; if that pace had kept up, “this pandemic could’ve been over by now”; even with the Delta variant, life could be returning to normal.

But as President Biden put it recently, the roll-out seems to have hit a wall, thanks to the petulant children of “pro-Trump America” deciding to embrace vaccine refusal as their latest symbol of tribal membership.

A recent poll suggested that Republicans were 30% less willing to get vaccinated than Democrats. (In Missouri, a red state, a doctor has claimed that social pressure against vaccination is so strong, some who decide to have the jab are turning up at her clinic in disguise.) Now, with infection rates soaring, and the return of in-person school, office reopenings and maskless indoor dining in jeopardy, we are all “suffering” on account of the stubborn stupidity of these refuseniks.

What’s worrying is that the longer the virus circulates, the more “time and space” it has to further mutate, said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. That raises the possibility of a variant emerging that is more lethal, or able to evade our vaccines, and which puts us all at risk again. “It’s not fair, and we have every right to be angry about it.”

Maybe, but if the aim is to get more people vaccinated, those “emotions are not helpful”, said Peggy Drexler on CNN. Shaming and insulting the unvaccinated, and making them feel “attacked and blamed for the pandemic continuing” will only cause them to “dig in”. Far more effective is to ask them why they’re sceptical, listen to their misgivings – which may be more complex than we assume–and seek to reassure them.

Besides, it’s a liberal canard that only Fox News-watching conservatives are wary of the vaccines, said Dan McLaughlin in National Review. The black and Hispanic communities, both heavily Democrat-supporting, are lagging in vaccination rates, and fully 40% of employees of New York City’s public schools and hospitals – not a group that generally takes its “marching orders from Tucker Carlson” – are unvaccinated.

Their reasons for not being jabbed will be many and various, said Bryce Covert in The New York Times, but logistics are likely to play a part. For instance, though access has improved, 10% of the eligible population still live more than a 15-minute drive from a vaccine centre; even if the clinic is nearby, getting a jab requires time off work (not just for the vaccine, but also to recover from it) – which is often difficult for people working long shifts in low-wage jobs. It’s a question, then, of getting creative, with vaccine parties; vaccine drives in malls and workplaces; and mandated paid leave for those who experience side effects.

But there will still remain a rump of refuseniks, who insist that their right not to be vaccinated trumps the right of the vaccinated to go about their normal lives, free of risk, said Colin Dickey in The Atlantic. These holdouts frame their actions in terms of freedom and choice, but insist that private businesses should not be free to require them to wear a face mask, or to show proof of vaccination to enter their premises.

It’s time to “call their bluff”, said Andrew Sullivan on Substack. If the unvaccinated want to be “free” from our efforts to protect them from this virus, let’s just “let it rip” in those areas. Perhaps “a sharp rise” in hospitalisations and deaths in red states will bring the holdouts to their senses. Sooner or later, they will “experience what everyone in denial eventually experiences: reality. And reality is the most tenacious influencer I know.”

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