White Evangelicals are the Most Reluctant to get Vaccinated for COVID-19
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nurse, or another medical professional. Please talk to a board-certified physician or two if you have any concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Unfortunately, evangelical vaccine skepticism isn’t just a matter of a few people with extreme vaccine views. It’s a definite pattern. According to a March poll by the NORC Centers for Public Affairs Research poll, White evangelicals are significantly more likely to be vaccine-skeptical (40%) than White mainline protestants (28%) or protestants of color (27%). Some evangelical leaders such as Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress have expressed concerns that COVID-19 vaccines contain ingredients derived from aborted fetuses while others had concerns about “vaccine passports” and how requiring one might infringe on civil liberties.
Vaccines have been needed to attend public schools or travel to certain places for a while and the issue of compulsory vaccination has been handled in the court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts. This court case established a state’s right to enforce certain restrictions on the rights of individuals for the common good. Discussing the role of the government in regulations and public safety isn’t new either. It came up during the seatbelt protests of the 1980s and during the creation of the FDA in 1906. Without these regulations in place, Americans would still be eating potentially rotten food laced with Borax, copper sulfate, formaldehyde, and other substances that we wouldn’t eat otherwise.
Others have concerns about the safety of the vaccine, which has been established through usual vaccine testing protocols. With no established risk for pregnant or nursing people, the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for most recipients. Those with autoimmune diseases, a history of severe adverse reactions to vaccines, other medical concerns should check with their doctors. At this time, the vaccines are not available for children under 18 (or 16 for the Pfizer vaccination). The safety and efficacy of the vaccine in children is expected to be established this midsummer.
When the vaccines first rolled out, some people had concerns that Black people would be reluctant to take the vaccine due to the pervasive presence of racism in medicine. Despite that, Black people have shown less reluctance to take the vaccine than expected. Black churches even played a critical role in vaccine distribution in Florida. The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed that both Black and White people of multiple faiths had similar rates of vaccine hesitancy with Latino people having slightly more vaccine hesitancy than either of these groups. However, as with anything else, reasons for vaccine hesitancy come from different places in these different groups.
Hoping to reach White evangelicals, Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptists’ public policy arm, called COVID-19 vaccines “cause for evangelicals to celebrate and give praise to God”. Likewise, Phillip Bethancourt, a former vice president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, noted that receiving the vaccine is like wearing a seat belt rather than being muzzled by the government. Curtis Chang, a theologian and a member of the Duke Divinity School faculty, put together a resource for this demographic called “Christians and the Vaccine”. This resource makes the case for Christians receiving a COVID-19 vaccine by likening it to a gift from God.
Ultimately, receiving the COVID-19 vaccination is an individual choice. However, like any other decision, individual choices have impacts on others and it is up to the decision-maker to be mindful of that. The decision to not receive a vaccine without any medical prohibition can jeopardize lives by infecting those who genuinely cannot receive a vaccine. In addition to that, refusing a vaccine in this manner will require pandemic protocols to stay in place for longer periods of time. Hopefully, these White evangelicals will see the irony in demanding greater Christian presences in media and government for their idea of a common good while screaming about how vaccines infringe upon individual rights.