The U.S. political divide on whether to get the coronavirus vaccine suggests that “maybe there’s been too much finger wagging,” said the head of the National Institutes of Health.
“I’ve done some of that; I’m going to try to stop and listen, in fact, to what people’s specific questions are,” NIH Director Francis Collins said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
An NBC News poll released Sunday showed that 82% of Democrats had already been vaccinated or plan to be as soon as possible, against 45% of Republicans.
Almost one-quarter of Republicans said they won’t get vaccinated and an additional 10% said they’ll do so only if required. That hesitancy has been seen as a roadblock to the U.S. achieving herd immunity against COVID-19.
“We’re all in this together. And clearly, if we’re going to be able to put COVID-19 behind us, we need to have all Americans take part in getting us to that point,” Collins said.
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, has been among the U.S. health officials singling out Republicans, terming their attitude toward vaccines and public health measures like mask mandates and lockdowns “frustrating.”
“It’s almost paradoxical that, on the one hand, they want to be relieved of the restrictions, but, on the other hand, they don’t want to get vaccinated. It just almost doesn’t make any sense,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said a week ago on CNN.
One Republican senator, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, said last week that he was skeptical of the “big push” on vaccinations. Fellow GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito on Sunday said Johnson’s comments hampered the effort to reach herd immunity in the U.S.
“I definitely think that comments like that hurt,” Capito, of West Virginia, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Collins said it was still unclear exactly what level of protection would confer herd immunity “with this particular virus.” But parts of the country are getting close to a 75% or 80% level of those with immunity, when vaccinations are combined with people who’ve already had COVID-19.
“But there are other places that are way behind, and those are the places we all worry about as the next hot spot,” he said. “What’s the next one? You can look at the map and say, ‘Where are vaccines lagging?’ Those are the places to worry about. And we can change that, if we can really inspire everybody to get engaged.”
About 90% of Americans now live within five miles of a vaccination site, Collins said.
Donald Trump is among those in the GOP who’ve recently urged supporters to get vaccinated. In an interview with the New York Post on Thursday, the former president called the shots “a miracle.”
Some 226 million vaccine doses have been given in the U.S. so far, with almost 42% of Americans having received at least one dose. That coverage ranges from 59% in New Hampshire to 30% in Mississippi, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker.