In the back room of a health food store in Tampa, Florida, women are enraged by the COVID-19 pandemic and the incompetence of politicians. They include Michelle Buckley, medical speech therapist; Ledy Escalante, customer service representative who brought her son; and a nurse who would rather be known here as “Anonymous.” Like many fans of former President Donald Trump, they don’t really trust the media.
They call themselves “mothers for freedom” and what brings them together this Tuesday morning is their frustration with local school authorities who, despite Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ’contradictory order, have refused to lift the mask requirement in local schools.
But women behind it not only believe that masks are not necessary in the fight against the pandemic. They also oppose vaccines. When asked why she doesn’t want to be vaccinated despite fervent government pleas, Michelle Buckley asks, “My body is the gateway to higher energy. Why am I putting things in my body that block my ability to have access to higher energy? “
So far, the U.S. vaccination campaign has been a resounding success. In just five months, 248 million doses have been administered, nearly half of all American adults have already received a shot, and about 30 percent are fully vaccinated. Early next week, teens over the age of 12 will also start getting shot. It’s an impressive campaign against the deadly virus, but now it’s starting to stop. As a result, the goal of achieving herd immunity recedes into the distance, a scenario that could soon be repeated in Europe.
When U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, his government believed minorities, in particular, would be skeptical of vaccinations. African Americans have long viewed the public health system with suspicion and for good reason. Recently, in the 1970s, human experiments were conducted in which placebo was administered to black people with syphilis instead of treating them. Biden invested millions to gain the trust of black Americans in COVID-19 vaccines.
A political division
But the problem has now arisen elsewhere, among Trump supporters. According to a University of Monmouth poll, 43% of Republicans don’t want to get vaccinated, compared to only 5% of Democrats. In rural Idaho, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, refrigerators are overflowing with unused vaccine. Doctors and nurses in these areas often do not know if they can even consume an entire vial once they have opened it to extract the first dose.
Like masks, vaccination has become a political issue in the United States. Many people refuse to get the vaccine, especially in counties where Trump has done very well, and even though it was Trump who laid the groundwork for the spectacularly successful vaccination campaign by launching “Operation Warp Speed.”
But unlike Biden, Trump has never publicly promoted vaccines. The former president celebrated his own recovery from COVID-19 as a resurrection, but the Americans only knew that he was secretly vaccinated in the White House shortly before the end of his term because it was revealed by the New York News.
Trump keeps his distance because he knows exactly how much his supporters don’t like vaccines. Groups like “Moms for Freedom” feature an ultra-libertarian mentality that fits well with Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric. Saad Omer, an epidemiologist at Yale University, found in a study that in the U.S., a particularly large proportion of people opposed Vaccines have a strong belief in individual freedom. Many devout Christians also believe in the myth that the Modern and BioNTech mRNA vaccines contain aborted fetal cells.
Empty vaccine centers
“A lot of people are generally suspicious of the government. They think vaccines have been developed too quickly,” says Lisa Piercey, a commissioner with the Tennessee Department of Health. “Some also cling to the idea, ‘The good Lord has protected me so far, and will continue to do so.'”
Piercey is a Republican and a doctor, and has not lost faith in science under Trump. On the contrary, he does not hide his frustration at the vacant vacancy in South America. “People are generally opposed to vaccines and it’s very difficult to convince them.”
Tennessee is a typical Republican stronghold. The vast majority of the population is white, evangelical and lives in rural areas. In the last presidential election, Trump won almost 61% of the vote here. The state is one of the country’s vaccination retardants, along with Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Almost everyone who wants a vaccine in Tennessee has already received one. Now it’s the people who are willing to get the punch that are falling short. In a parking lot in Nashville, the state capital, authorities have set up a giant vaccination center in a parking lot. Here, all the inhabitants could be easily vaccinated.
But on Monday, the facility was almost empty. There were only one or two people at 9 in the morning. The nurses were bored sitting next to their vaccination equipment.
A second large vaccination center will even be closed at a Nashville music venue later this month due to reduced demand. One last day, only a couple of dozen people went on to get vaccinated. Many of them were already receiving their second doses. Authorities had designed the center so that it could carry out at least 500 vaccinations a day.
“We’re unlikely to exceed 40% of the vaccination rate here, and 50% would be a surprise,” says Lisa Piercey. The doctor commissioned a survey to examine the reasons for the vaccine’s skepticism. The result: Nearly 60% of respondents believe that vaccination has a higher risk than contracting COVID-19. “Unfortunately, there are still a lot of rumors circulating on Facebook and my circle of friends about the alleged dangers of vaccination. Right now someone told me the fairy tale that a chip is implanted with vaccination,” says Piercey , rolling his eyes.
Can incentives work?
To increase the number of vaccines administered in your state, you now want to start an information campaign. The aim is to make it clear that vaccines are safe and protect people from the disease well. “We don’t want to force anyone to do anything,” Piercey says. “But we want to present people with all the information so that they can freely decide what’s best for them.”
Elsewhere in the U.S., companies and government agencies leave no stone unturned in their attempts to convince Republicans to get vaccinated. In West Virginia, the government wants to offer people between the ages of 16 and 35 $ 100 premiums to get vaccinated. In New Jersey, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy promises every vaccinated person a coupon to get a free beer. In New York, activists handed out joints to people who could show they had received a first dose.
But these incentives don’t seem to work everywhere. Last year, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, repeatedly mentioned the goal of achieving the so-called immunity of the herd, which would prevent the virus from spreading. But Fauci has strayed from that goal. A few weeks ago, at a White House briefing, he said, “People were confused and thought you could never lessen infections until you reached that mystical level of immunity in the herd.” He explained that, as a result, he has stopped talking about the herd’s immunity “in the classical sense”. Fauci said, “Forget it for a second,” and explained that if enough people were vaccinated, the number of infections would automatically decrease.
Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, also moved away from the goal of herd immunity a long time ago. The scientist wrote in December that “the immunity of the herd is not the only value of a vaccine nor the only way it can help us return to a more normal life.” He argues that if people at particular risk are well protected, the health care system may escape the overflow situation. “In my opinion, this is the most likely path to a more normal life in many countries,” Lipsitch argues. In other words, containment rather than eradication.
“We don’t want to force anyone to do anything.”
Europe may have to follow the same path. In Germany, the willingness of people to get vaccinated is relatively high. According to a current survey by the Robert Koch Institute, German disease control centers, only 8% of German citizens say they will definitely not be vaccinated. According to a December study, the proportion of vaccine skeptics in the EU is 30 percent. Even in Hungary they are the majority.
As such, it is questionable whether Europe will be able to reach the herd immunity threshold – which, due to the increase in more contagious mutants, is likely to be at 80% – in the near future. The consequences can be serious. In areas with high levels of vaccine skepticism, repeated outbreaks would occur. And people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons (e.g., due to an allergy) would be at risk of death for years. “We do it for measles and maintain a high level of immunity to protect everyone, including those who can’t be vaccinated,” says Omer, the Yale epidemiologist.
He believes the Biden administration should use a simple trick to get Republican vaccine skeptics to join. Omer says libertarian Americans – who are highly skeptical of the government – should be pleased with their former president, who removed all bureaucratic hurdles for a vaccine to be developed quickly. “I wish there was more discussion by the current Donald Trump administration behind ‘Operation Warp Speed.'”