The Delta Variant Is the Symptom of a Bigger Threat: Vaccine Refusal

Of the 39 percent of adults who are unvaccinated, about half say they are completely unwilling. But even within that group, some say they would comply if required to do so.

Some are hesitant and may come around with the right persuasion from people they trust, while still others plan to be inoculated but say they have just not had the chance.

Politics is a driver for only some of these people, noted Dr. Richard Besser, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New Jersey, where he lives, the rates vary drastically because of socioeconomic factors. In mostly white Princeton, 75 percent of adults are immunized, versus 45 percent in Trenton, just 14 miles away, which is heavily Black and Latino.

“Both are strong Democratic areas, so it’s really important to break things down and to address the issues that are impeding vaccination progress in each segment of the unvaccinated population,” Dr. Besser said.

Still, there is no doubt that the political divide is playing a role in rising infection rates. From the start, vaccinations in counties that voted for Donald J. Trump lagged those in counties that voted for Joseph R. Biden, and the gap has only widened — from two percentage points in April to nearly 12 points now, according to one recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Nationwide, 86 percent of Democrats have had at least one shot, compared with 52 percent of Republicans, according to another poll. Even the national goal of having 70 percent of adults vaccinated by July 4 somehow became “Biden’s goal,” said Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases Policy and Research at Boston University.

“All of a sudden, even getting out of pandemic became a left versus right issue.”

Fewer than half of House Republicans are vaccinated as of May, compared with 100 percent of congressional Democrats. For months, some Republican lawmakers including Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky, and conservative news commentators like Tucker Carlson, have voiced their skepticism of vaccines, loudly and insistently.

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