Another poll confirms: Anti-vaxxers are more willing to get back to regular routines than the pro-vaxxers are

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

This is at least the third poll I’ve seen in the last few months suggesting that the people who should be taking the most precautions are taking the least and the people who should be taking the least precautions are taking the most. Gallup published data to that effect in March, then YouGov earlier this month, now CNN.

It’s not just an irony or curiosity of the pandemic, it’s a major messaging problem. Experts like Leana Wen and various righty pundits like me have made the point that Biden and other vaccinated federal officials should take off their masks and relax social distancing in order to incentivize the unvaccinated to get their shots. Show them what you get to do after you’ve been immunized. Show ’em what they’re missing!

But they’re not missing anything. They’re doing all the same stuff that vaccinated people are. In fact, they’re doing more than the vaccinated are. “Get the vaccine and get your life back” is well-meant and would be a winning message in a more rational world, but we don’t live in that world. In the world we live in, the unvaccinated are getting their lives back despite not getting the vaccine.

And if that means they get sick from COVID eventually, they seem okay with that. It’s better than getting vaccinated according to their weird risk calculus.

Perhaps surprisingly, the group that is unwilling to get a vaccine is the most comfortable with the idea of returning to their regular routine. Overall, 63% of all adults say they are comfortable returning to their routine today and another 4% say they already have. Among those who are not vaccinated and do not plan to get one, 87% say they’re comfortable or have already returned to their routines, compared with 63% among those who haven’t gotten vaccinated but plan to, and 58% among those who have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

That suggests those unwilling to be vaccinated do not see inoculation as necessary for them to return to life as it was pre-pandemic. Further, those who are not yet vaccinated are also the least confident that the government officials managing the rollout of coronavirus vaccines are properly balancing speed and safety in deciding which vaccines should be available.

CNN found 26 percent of adults say they won’t try to get the shot, a number consistent with other polling. There looks to be a reliable cohort of 20-25 percent in poll after poll that just isn’t interested in vaccination. The good news is that there’s still a sizable chunk of unvaccinated people who say they’ll get the shot, 36 percent versus 58 percent who won’t. We haven’t hit the “vaccine wall” yet. The bad news is that if the 26 percent of hardcore holdouts are true to their word, that’s going to make it hard to reach herd immunity. At least, it will until kids are vaccinated — and who knows how many parents will allow that — or the virus spreads among the unvaccinated and generates immunity the old-fashioned way.

A few days ago NBC found that 74 percent of Democrats say they’ve already been vaccinated versus 40 percent of Republicans who say so. Again, in a rational world, we’d see a similar split when D’s and R’s are asked whether they’d be comfortable returning to their regular routines immediately. All of the vaccinated Dems and GOPers would say yes, all of the unvaccinated would say no. But of course, that’s not what we see at all. From CNN:

Just 47 percent of Dems have already returned to their regular routine or would be willing to do so today versus 88 percent of Republicans. In other words, GOPers are nearly twice as likely to get back to normal than Democrats are even though Democrats are nearly twice as likely to have been vaccinated. Which makes a certain perverse sense: If you’ve decided that you’re not getting the vaccine, either because you think COVID’s no big deal or because you’ve been convinced that the vaccines are risky, there’s no point isolating any longer. You’ve resigned yourself to facing the virus without any extra protection. As such, your choice is either to quarantine forever or get back to normal and taking your chances. No-brainer.

What’s harder to explain are the fully vaccinated Democrats who still aren’t ready for normalcy. Maybe that’s a function of their views on masks: The CDC still recommends those for vaxxed people in most situations, after all, so maybe Dems are interpreting the question as simply asking them whether they’re ready to ditch masks yet and they’re thinking “not quite yet.” So long as they’re still wearing masks, they’re not back to their “regular routine,” they may reason. But the Gallup and YouGov polls I mentioned up top indicated that vaxxed people are also more intent on social distancing than the unvaxxed are even though they’re at near-zero risk of infection so I think their reluctance is about more than masks. I suspect they’re just risk-averse by nature and pride themselves on Following The Science. Until Fauci comes down from the mountaintop and proclaims that the moment has come for full normalcy, they’re not returning to full normalcy.

Exit question: What incentives are left to get the unvaccinated to change their minds and be immunized if they’re already returning to normal at a faster clip than the vaccinated are? The only obvious possibility is vaccine passports, right? If you don’t start limiting where the unvaxxed can go unless they get their shots then there’s little reason for them to go out and get them. But CNN’s poll finds Americans chilly about that, with 72 percent against the idea of requiring a passport to go grocery shopping and narrower majorities against requiring them on the job or at sports events or concerts. If the unvaxxed have all the same social privileges as the vaxxed then we need to figure out another way to persuade them. Pay them, maybe? I don’t know.