The partisan divide in the campaign to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus may be about to go into hyperdrive on Thursday. That's when President Joe Biden is expected to announce that all federal employees and contractors must be vaccinated or face regular testing.
Vaccine mandates are likely to be a politically divisive position and split the country along political lines in a way that vaccines overall do not. They could, however, get more people vaccinated.
Take a look at a June Kaiser Family Foundation poll on the topic. The pollster specifically asked whether or not employers should require vaccinations unless they have a medical exemption. This question is slightly more strict than what Biden is implementing, though it is in the same general ballpark.
Just 51% of Americans supported such a move. It was opposed by 46%.
At the time, by comparison, 65% of American adults said they had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose in the poll. In total, 68% had either received one or were going to get one as soon as possible. This lines up closely with the 69% of those who have currently received one.
The same polling indicated that a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (69%) were against such a move, while a majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (69%) were in favor.
The same poll actually had a slight majority of Republicans (51%) who said they had been vaccinated with at least one dose. Other polls have it even higher.
The Kaiser poll is not the only one to show that providing proof of vaccination is likely to be politically divisive. An April Quinnipiac University poll showed just 49% of Americans said that a credential or vaccine passport to prove vaccination status was a good idea. That was within the margin of error of the 45% who indicated it was a bad idea.
These numbers may actually underestimate opposition to vaccine mandates. A clear majority, 61%, of those currently employed, said they don't want their employers to institute a vaccine requirement to work.
It's not difficult to see how there could be a real pushback against vaccine mandates if they start getting put into place across the country.
But here's the thing: pushing for real penalties for those who don't get vaccinated could actually get people to take the vaccine in a way that nothing so far has.
Just 14% of the adult population say they'll never get a vaccine in the Kaiser poll.
A clear majority of unvaccinated adults at this point either say they will get a vaccine dose as soon as possible, are waiting and seeing before getting one or won't do so unless forced.
Further, among those employed and unvaccinated, just 50% said they would quit their job if their employer forced them to get a vaccine. Another 42% said they would get a vaccine. This comes even though many of these employees didn't want an employer mandate put into place.
Employer requirements for vaccines could have a double impact. They would get people to take a vaccine who were thinking of getting a vaccine and hadn't yet. They would also get some people who weren't thinking of getting a vaccine to get one too.
Indeed, we know from past experience that making it harder for people to get out of vaccinations makes more people get vaccinated. In California, for example, the percentage of students who got necessary childhood vaccinations to enter school went up when the state tightened its exemption policy.
The question, of course, is whether employers and politicians feel the need to take a politically risky position when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations. If cases continue to rise in the United States, they just may.
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