Several years ago, two sociologists researched whether Americans were willing to take a novel vaccine during a pandemic. Taking poll data from the midst of the 2009 H1N1 swine-flu outbreak, they broke out hesitancy by race, age, and partisanship, among other factors. Although the H1N1 pandemic was very different from today’s COVID-19 pandemic—not nearly as many people in the United States fell ill, far fewer died, and vaccines were not as widely available as they are now—the results were striking.
The researchers found widespread hesitation. Nearly two-thirds of Americans were unwilling to receive a shot. But those qualms were relatively evenly distributed in the population. Older people were more willing to get the vaccine than younger ones, and white and Latino people (about 37 percent each) were more willing than Black people (25 percent). Democrats (39.6 percent) were more willing than Republicans (32.2 percent), but the spread was small.
Twelve years later, there’s another pandemic, another vaccine, and more vaccine hesitancy—but that hesitancy has spread differently within the population. Although public-health experts initially worried that Black Americans would be highly vaccine-hesitant, there’s now racial parity among people who want shots. Instead, young conservatives are the great outlier. According to Kaiser Family Foundation polling, 13 percent of Americans say they definitely won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine, but that includes 18 percent of people ages 30 to 49, and a whopping 29 percent of Republicans. Hesitancy is particularly high among people who live in rural areas and white evangelicals—for whom increased church attendance correlates with increased hesitancy, according to a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute.