New Survey Reveals How Faith-Based Outreach Has Impacted America’s Shift Toward Vaccine Acceptance

Jeremy Perkins (Unsplash)

Below is the press release published by the the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) regarding the Religion and the Vaccine Survey conducted in collaboration with the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).

The survey finds vaccine hesitancy has fallen among Americans overall and among all religious subgroups in just three months, with many who once balked saying they embraced inoculation against COVID-19 at the urging of faith leaders.

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The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) today released a new survey expanding on findings from the March 2021 PRRI–IFYC Religion and the Vaccine Survey. Together, these PRRI–IFYC surveys are the largest surveys on religion and COVID-19 to date and show that faith-based approaches continue to offer opportunities to encourage vaccination. 

The new survey shows that vaccine hesitancy has decreased among all Americans, including across all religious and demographic subgroups. However, the survey also shows that barriers to vaccine access, such as time constraints, concerns about side effects, and lack of reliable transportation, have discouraged some from getting vaccinated, especially among communities of color and younger Americans. 

“Beyond hesitancy, our survey reveals that barriers to vaccine access—such as concerns about time off work or a lack of transportation or childcare—remain obstacles for many. These barriers to access disproportionately impact Black, Hispanic, and young Americans, many of whom are otherwise receptive to getting vaccinated,” said PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones. “As religious leaders work to build community trust in the COVID-19 vaccine, they should simultaneously provide services that help eliminate barriers so that all willing populations are receiving vaccinations.”

“Faith-based approaches have been and will continue to be effective in convincing Americans to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,” said IFYC founder and president Eboo Patel. “As we examine exactly what it is that is working in encouraging Americans to get vaccines, it is clear that community-based interventions are critical. By working together to encourage vaccination among hesitant populations, we are saving lives.”

Increasing Vaccine Acceptance, Decreasing Hesitancy

As of the end of June, more than seven in ten Americans (71%) are vaccine accepters, including two-thirds of Americans (67%) who report that they have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and an additional 4% who say they will get vaccinated as soon as possible. Among religious groups, Jewish Americans are most likely to be accepters (85%), which is unchanged since March. Hispanic Catholics have increased most in vaccine acceptance, from 56% in March to 80% in June. White Catholics (79%), other non-Christians (78%), other Christians (77%), the religiously unaffiliated (75%), and white mainline Protestants (74%) have surged above the 70% mark, with increases of 11–15 percentage points in each group since March. 

Republicans remain less likely than independents or Democrats to be vaccine accepters but have increased from 45% accepter in March to 63% in June, a larger gain than independents (58% to 71%) and Democrats (73% to 85%). However, news media trust still divides Republicans. More than three in four Republicans who most trust mainstream news outlets (77%) are vaccine accepters, and more than six in ten Fox News Republicans (64%) report being vaccine accepters. Among Republicans who most trust far-right news, only 45% are accepters and almost half (46%) say they will refuse to get vaccinated — a notable 15-percentage-point increase in refusers since March.

Vaccine hesitancy is decreasing as more Americans receive vaccinations. As of June, less than one in five Americans are vaccine hesitant (15%), including 10% who say they will wait to see how the vaccines are working for others and 5% who will get vaccinated if required for work, school, or other activities. Reported concerns over unknown potential long-term effects of the vaccines have declined, dropping more than 10 percentage points between March and June. 

Refusals, however, have held steady across most demographic groups. Republicans, Americans under age 50, and people living in rural communities are still the most likely to be hesitant or refusers. The highest refusal rate among religious groups remains white evangelical Protestants, 24% of whom report that they will not get vaccinated. The data reveal a close relationship between hesitancy for adults and their children: Vaccine refusers almost universally say they will not get their children vaccinated (94%). Black Protestants are a notable exception: 19% reported they would refuse the vaccines in March, dropping to 13% in June.

“The survey data reveal a remarkable shift among Americans from vaccine hesitancy to acceptance, across almost every demographic,” said Natalie Jackson, director of research at PRRI. “Something we can gather from this analysis is that the influence of community networks, whether family members, physicians, close friends, coworkers, neighbors, or religious leaders, in determining whether an individual overcomes hesitancy cannot be overstated. Additionally, there is still work to be done to break down barriers to access.”

Successes and Opportunities for Faith-Based Approaches 

Faith-based approaches to allaying vaccine hesitancy, including encouragement from religious leaders and religious groups helping to disseminate information and provide resources, have had a significant influence on increasing vaccine acceptance among hesitant groups. Many Christians of color report that faith-based approaches mattered in their decision to get vaccinated. Vaccinated Hispanic Protestants (40%) and Black Protestants (30%) are most likely to say that one or more faith-based approaches helped to convince them. 

Among white Catholics, notably, those who are vaccine hesitant have become more than twice as likely to say one or more faith-based approaches could sway them — jumping from 15% to 31%. Even white evangelical Protestants, the religious group least receptive to the vaccines, could be swayed by faith-based approaches. Almost one-third (32%) of unvaccinated white evangelical Protestants who attend services say one or more faith-based approaches would make them more likely to get vaccinated; among the vaccinated, more than one in four (26%) who attend services say faith-based approaches encouraged them to get a vaccine.  

Overcoming Logistical Barriers to Vaccination

Even as concerns about the vaccines have lessened, substantial barriers to vaccination persist among some groups with high hesitancy and refusal rates. More than four in ten Hispanic Protestants (44%) say that needing time to get vaccinated or deal with the possible side effects is a critical reason (22%) or one of the reasons (22%) they have not gotten vaccinated yet. More than one-third of Americans ages 18–29 (38%) and ages 30–49 (37%), Black Protestants (37%), and Black Americans (36%) say the same. 

Critical barriers faced by Hispanic Protestants also include concerns over health conditions (34%), lack of childcare (21%), and adequate transportation (21%). By comparison, only 4% of all unvaccinated Americans say lack of reliable transportation is a critical barrier, and only 4% cite a lack of childcare. Barriers to vaccination also disproportionately affect Black Protestants, similar numbers of whom say concerns over health conditions (36%), lack of childcare (20%), and adequate transportation (18%) are reasons they have not gotten vaccinated. 

Significantly, Republicans, rural Americans, and white evangelical Protestants are no more likely than all Americans to report these barriers as critical challenges or reasons they have not gotten vaccinated, despite their lower-than-average vaccination rates. 

Other key findings in the June PRRI–IFYC report include:

  • Openness to QAnon conspiracy thinking continues to be a major driver of vaccine hesitancy and refusal. Less than half of QAnon believers are vaccine accepters (47%), and one-third say they will not get vaccinated (32%). Conversely, among QAnon rejecters, 88% are vaccine accepters and only 4% say they will not get vaccinated.
  • Men continue to be slightly more likely than women to have gotten a dose of a vaccine or to say they will get one as soon as possible. However, women have seen a slightly larger increase in acceptance since March (to 69% from 54%) than men (to 73% from 61%).
  • Parents are much more hesitant about getting their children vaccinated against COVID-19 than they are about getting vaccinated themselves. Just over one-third of Americans who are parents of children under age 18 (35%) say they will get their children vaccinated as soon as they can.
  • Education continues to be a key divider of vaccine attitudes. Americans with some college experience but no degree have increased to 70% vaccine acceptant from 56% in March, Americans with four-year degrees have increased to 80% vaccine acceptant from 70%, and Americans with postgraduate degrees have increased to 92% vaccine acceptant from 79%.

The full report, “Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus: Successes and Opportunities for Engaging Faith Communities on COVID-19 Vaccination,” is available on the PRRI and IFYC websites. 

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Methodology 

The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI and IFYC among a random sample of 5,123 adults (ages 18 and over) living in all 50 states in the United States and who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel, and an additional 382 people who were recruited by Ipsos using opt-in survey panels to increase sample sizes in smaller states. An additional 346 Hispanic Protestants were recruited to increase sample size in this group. The full sample of 5,851 is weighted to be representative of the U.S. population. Interviews were conducted online between June 7 and 23, 2021. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 1.7 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.7

Executive Summary: Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus: (Wave 2: June 2021)

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