Why is the U.S. falling behind the rest of the developed world in COVID-19 vaccinations? As of mid-September, according to Oxford University, 63 percent of Americans had been fully or partially vaccinated. That’s lower than Canada (75 percent), France (74), Italy (73), the U.K. (71), Israel (69), Germany (66) and Japan (66).
A lot of the explanation is political. In the July Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Monitor, 86 percent of Democrats said they had received at least one vaccination shot. Among Republicans, the figure was 54 percent. That’s a huge difference between the two parties (over 30 percent). Education was also significant: college graduates were 81 percent vaccinated, non-college graduates 61 percent — a 20-point gap. Differences by sex and race were smaller (under 10 percent).
Two factors appear to be driving vaccine hesitancy in the U.S. — ideology and education. Less-educated Americans can be described as skeptical. Conservatives are hostile. Skepticism is diminishing as deaths continue to mount. But ideological hostility is resistant to change. It originates in politics and can only be defeated politically, as it was this month in California.
The KFF survey identified “two distinct groups” of unvaccinated Americans — those who were open to getting a vaccine and said they would “wait and see” (13 percent of the public) and the roughly equal group who said they would “definitely not” get vaccinated. The “wait and see” group were less educated and included a higher proportion of minorities. They tended to be skeptical about the effectiveness of vaccines and confused by inconsistent messages coming from the government and medical authorities (most recently, about the need for booster shots).