- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 27, 2021

America’s religious communities have played an important role in upping acceptance of vaccines designed to thwart COVID-19, a survey released Wednesday morning revealed.

The canvass, the second of three planned for 2021 by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), measured public reaction to accepting vaccination as well as factors causing people to reject the shots.

So-called “vaccine hesitancy” has dropped across almost every demographic as of the end of June, the survey notes.

At the same time, barriers to access and concerns over side effects and the availability of child care are holding some people back from getting vaccinated, the study revealed. If a worker can’t easily get the vaccine or have their children looked after, this could be a deterrent, the report said.

As of the end of June, the survey indicated, 71% of Americans say they are “vaccine accepters,” a figure that includes the 67% of Americans who report that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and another 4% who say they will get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Jewish Americans are most likely to be accepters (85%), a figure unchanged since March, the report said.

The survey revealed that Hispanic Catholics have seen the highest increase in vaccine acceptance, from 56% in March to 80% in June.

White Catholics (79%), other non-Christians (78%), other Christians (77%), the religiously unaffiliated (75%), and white mainline Protestants (74%) have each climbed above the 70% mark, with increases of 11–15 percentage points in each group since March.

The data appears as President Biden said he was considering mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all federal workers. The Department of Veterans Affairs has already announced such a policy for its employees, and leaders in New York City and California say workers must either get vaccinated or face weekly COVID-19 testing.

“We have evidence that these faith-based approaches have made a difference among the people who’ve already decided to get vaccinated,” Robert P. Jones, the PRRI’s founder and CEO, said in an interview.

Mr. Jones added that two of the groups lagging in vaccine acceptance — White evangelical Christians and Hispanic evangelicals — are each more likely to take the shots if there’s an appeal from the pulpit or from their co-religionists.

He said that appeals to the hesitant to protect human life and to safeguard the most vulnerable in their communities by getting vaccinated are “the most appealing or powerful, among other kinds of reasons” that change people’s minds.

“You can easily imagine a pastor talking about it that way,” Mr. Jones said. “Even Franklin Graham, I think, talked about this as a way of loving your neighbor,” he added.

In May, Mr. Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, told The Washington Times that Americans should “pray about” getting the vaccine.

“I’m pro-life, and in fact that vaccine saves lives,” the head of the Samaritan’s Purse medical charity added.

IFYC founder and president Eboo Patel said in a statement that “faith-based approaches have been and will continue to be effective in convincing Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”

“As we examine exactly what it is that is working in encouraging Americans to get vaccines, community-based interventions are critical. By working together to encourage vaccination among hesitant populations, we are saving lives,” Mr. Patel said.

The survey also pointed to political orientation and other demographic figures as keys to vaccine rejection.

Refusals “have held steady” among Republicans, Americans under 50, and those living in rural communities, the groups said.

Asked about data showing that large percentages of unvaccinated residents in New York, Houston, Detroit, and Portland, Oregon — cities where President Trump lost decisively — Mr. Jones responded saying non-political factors are likely at play.

“There’s two vectors coinciding here,” Mr. Jones said. “One [is] hesitancy. But the other one is [what] we’re seeing with lower socioeconomic standing groups, people of color, and that is some kind of barriers to access.”

He said many of the unvaccinated at the lower end of the economic scale worry they might not have sufficient time off if there are any temporary side-effects from the vaccine.

“If you’re working a minimum wage job, and you have no paid sick leave or very little vacation and you miss a day at work, you miss a day’s pay … or you get fired if you miss five days in a row,” he explained.

These, too, are areas that religious communities can help mitigate, Mr. Jones suggested.

“Child care, transportation, these are kind of things that churches do all the time,” he said. “These are solvable problems that churches can do, not only to address these comfort issues, but to address actual logistical challenges as well.”

The “Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus: Successes and Opportunities for Engaging Faith Communities on COVID-19 Vaccination” report is available on the PRRI and IFYC websites.

Mr. Jones said the groups expect to repeat the survey in “early fall.”

• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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