Members of the House representing districts with low vaccination rates and public health experts discussing their efforts to reach the unvaccinated described what has become essentially two separate conversations. One aims to remove vaccination hesitation among conservative White Republicans, while the other aims to break down socio-economic barriers to vaccination for poorer populations and color communities.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio), chairman of the GOP Doctors Caucus of Congress, said his focus was on understanding and responding to hesitant vaccination in conservative communities across the country and in his Cincinnati district, where 42 Percent of residents who received at least one vaccination have a first shot – about 9 percentage points behind the national pace. He has attended focus groups with Donald Trump supporters and made a public service announcement with Republican counterparts in Congress.
“People say, ‘We don’t know what'” [the vaccine] will do it in the long term, ”he told POLITICO, listing concerns he has heard from people who oppose vaccinations. “There are people in the lower age group who say, ‘I’m young and have no other comorbidities and just don’t feel like it.” Some people are just afraid of needles. As a doctor, I can tell you that – some people pass out when they see you. And I’ve heard everything, right up to: ‘You put me in a chip.’ “
But MP Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) Said the battle to increase vaccinations was very different in districts with large low-income populations and minorities like his own in Tucson, which until recently had one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country . The same barriers that prevented its constituents from getting tested when the virus emerged – poor transportation, lack of childcare, little familiarity with the health system – hampered their ability to get vaccinated, despite federal efforts like mass vaccination centers that did the government prioritized as many shots in the arms as soon as possible. His district has made up ground in the past few weeks – 44 percent have now received at least one injection – after the district’s health department increased its reach, particularly in Hispanic communities, Grijalva said.
“It is not easy for people who traditionally have no or limited access to health care to realize that they need to go to the vaccine,” he said.
Indeed, the extent of the struggle for widespread vaccination of low-income minority communities disproportionately harmed by the pandemic is masked by high vaccination resistance among white conservatives. The strong racial differences in vaccination would otherwise be much worse.
“Among the remaining unvaccinated people, white people are far more likely to say they definitely won’t get the vaccine, while black and Hispanic people are more likely to say they haven’t got it but hope to get it soon. “Said Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and polling research at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Hamel said polls show that black and Hispanic adults are more concerned about taking time off from work, getting a lift to get an injection, or the cost of the vaccination, even though the Covid vaccines are free. Lotteries and awards recently accepted by numerous governors to increase vaccination rates would do little to remove these barriers to entry, said Brian Castrucci, president of the de Beaumont Foundation.
“So much work went into adoption that we fiddled with the ball getting access,” said Castrucci, whose health organization has been working to increase vaccinations.
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) said his Dallas-Fort Worth district, where about half of its constituents received at least one dose, close to the national vaccination rate, said local health officials have had success in addressing vaccine delay by getting them barriers concerned with access. For example, the local government recently reached out to churches, hair salons, and beauty salons to promote vaccination, a strategy that worked well with the distribution of the H1N1 vaccine a little over a decade ago.
“Now the focus is on this: if there is a group of five people who can identify themselves as in need of vaccination, the district will come to them. It’s about food on wheels, but it’s about vaccines, ”said Burgess. “On the last mile of the vaccination line, you have to meet people where they are, even if it gets harder and slower.”
However, others like Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), A retired obstetrician, argued that any problems with access to vaccines have now been largely resolved and that it is up to Americans to find their way to a vaccine site.
“I’ve been to my upstate state and we have vaccines in the community health centers, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices,” he said. “If someone doesn’t have it now, they have to take responsibility for it.”
Wenstrup, the Republican from Ohio, said many government officials were quick to write off large swathes of the population as opposed to vaccination instead of doing the hard work of listening to them and addressing their questions and concerns.
“A lot of people felt indoctrinated and pressured to do something they didn’t want to do,” he said. “As a doctor, I know that before surgery, you need to develop a relationship with a patient and explain what you are doing and why you are doing it – although this is difficult at the national level.”
These challenges help explain why the party divide is widening, as vaccinations have fallen sharply since a peak in mid-April.
According to the latest polls, Republicans are about six times more likely than Democrats to say they are not interested in a vaccination. Democratic counties, meanwhile, are largely vaccinating faster as local officials and organizations redouble efforts to reach out to objectors, with a focus on minority groups.
Data on racial differences throughout the Covid response were incomplete, including on vaccinations, making comparisons difficult in some cases. Some states have tracked this data better than others, which may skew comparisons between congressional districts.
But data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and outside researchers find racial disparities in vaccination efforts are narrowing, especially among Hispanics. In the past two weeks, more than a quarter of the first doses were given to Hispanics, almost twice the average for the past six months, according to the CDC.
The Biden government this week announced new efforts to vaccinate Americans in the month before Independence Day and launched new programs that include free childcare, free transportation, extended pharmacy hours, and other measures. What is at stake, President Joe Biden said in a speech Wednesday, is the possibility of a resurgence of the virus in low-vaccine areas, which set back the nation’s progress in eradicating Covid.
“I don’t want the already too divided country to be divided in a new way,” he said, “between places where people live free from fear of Covid and places where death and serious illness, if the worst happens occur return. “