Could invoking the Golden Rule be enough to induce vaccine-skeptical people of faith to finally get their COVID-19 jab? According to some new polling data, that may well be the case.
A recent poll of 5,123 adults by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Interfaith Youth Core found that nearly four in 10 vaccine-hesitant Americans (38%) who attend religious services at least a few times a year said that one or more faith-based approaches would make them more likely to get vaccinated. And, as it turns out, when you tell people that getting vaccinated allows them to live out one of the core tenets of Christianity — loving their neighbor as themselves — the message tends to resonate. And it resonates across all faith and demographic groups.
For instance, four in 10 vaccinated Hispanic protestants and three in 10 vaccinated Black protestants were more likely to say that one or more faith-based approaches convinced them to get their jab, the poll found. And more than three in 10 (31%) of vaccine-hesitant white Catholics told pollsters that a faith-based approach could encourage them to get vaccinated, up from 15% earlier in the year, the poll found.
Specifically, more than two-thirds of Hispanic Catholics (67%) saw getting vaccinated as an example of loving their neighbor, up from 55% in a similar March poll. More than six in 10 Hispanic protestants (61%) answered the same way, up from 49% in March. A clear majority of white mainline protestants and white Catholics (58% each, respectively) also answered the same way, according to the poll. Fifty-six percent of Black protestants also went for the Golden Rule argument.
With the delta variant of the virus surging across the country, and hospitalizations similarly increasing from West Virginia and Tennessee to Minnesota, reaching that stubborn constituency of Americans who still have not been vaccinated is more urgent than ever. Support for that Golden Rule argument actually dipped among white evangelical protestants, going from 46% in March to 43% in June. That constituency, where there’s an intersection of both conservative theology and more worldly Republican opposition to vaccines, has been harder to reach.
In fact, nearly a quarter of that group say they don’t want the shot at all, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing a new study.
Encouragingly, Hispanic Catholics made the largest gains in vaccine acceptance, rising from 56% in March to 80% in June. Nearly eight in 10 white Catholics (79%) also are acceptors, up from 68%in March, the poll found.
“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,” PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones said in a statement.
Overall, the poll shows that vaccine hesitancy has decreased among all Americans, but substantial barriers to getting the jab, notably, time constraints, access to reliable transportation, and childcare, have posed barriers. And those obstacles have been the most pronounced among younger Americans and communities of color.
• “More than four in 10 Hispanic Protestants (44% ) say that having 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,” the poll found.
• Also, “Hispanic Protestants are most likely to report that lack of childcare is an issue (21%), but one in five Black Americans (20%) struggle with this as well.
• And “Black Protestants are most likely to report that a health condition is a critical reason (18%) or one of the reasons (18%) they have not gotten vaccinated. About one-third of Hispanic Protestants (34%) also report that health is a critical reason or one of the reasons they have not gotten vaccinated,” the poll further found.
When he’s been out on the stump, President Biden (along with his lieutenants) has pitched getting vaccinated as the selfless, patriotic thing to do.
The new polling data show there’s a role for America’s religious leaders — regardless of sect or creed — to play from the pulpit as well. Churches, as gathering places, also are sources of childcare and other support systems so critical to their communities.
From the time they’re children, most Americans are taught there’s no higher good than loving their neighbor. Doing it, especially now, can be a challenge. And it’s supposed to be that way. But there’s no better time than now to put it into action.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at email@example.com.