Data: Yes, people really did become more interested in vaccination when the CDC announced vaxxed people could unmask

A little more interested, I should say. Watch this short clip to see how much things changed on May 13, the day Rochelle Walensky declared the new CDC guidance. Traffic to the vaccine.gov website went up a bit and there was a spike in the number of vaccinations in the following days — although that spike now appears to be over. Vaccinations are trending downwards again.

Didn’t you expect a little more bang for the proverbial buck once the agency finally decreed that vaccinated people could get back to normal? I did. Watch, then read on.

This chart from the NYT provides a clue about what was really driving the brief upswing in vaccinations. I don’t think it was the new mask guidance, by and large:

Of the three vaccines, only Pfizer saw a spike in mid-May. Moderna continued trending downward, an odd divergence if in fact the CDC guidance was causing holdouts to run out and get inoculated. Shouldn’t we have seen an upswing in Moderna vaccinations too?

The divergence makes sense, though, when you remember that only Pfizer’s vaccine was approved for ages 12-15 in mid-May. That spike we’re seeing after Walensky’s announcement is mostly kids getting their shots, I suspect, not adults who had finally been tempted into getting vaxxed by the prospect of not having to wear their masks.

After all, as many polls have demonstrated, unvaccinated people aren’t waiting around to get back to normal. As a group, they tend to be more willing to unmask and socialize than even vaccinated people are. So why would Walensky’s new guidance tempt them?

To the extent that the CDC news did move anyone to get vaccinated, it may have been fear of the aftermath from the announcement that did it more so than the prospect of being able to unmask publicly. Remember this Time poll from a few days ago:

“I am concerned that people will stop wearing masks even if they aren’t fully vaccinated.” Forty-one percent of unvaccinated people agreed with that, third-most of all the motives listed. (And more than twice as many who agreed with “I don’t want to have to wear a mask when I leave my home.”) It may be that a certain number of people who haven’t been vaccinated yet but were planning to do it eventually watched Walensky’s announcement and concluded, correctly, that once vaxxed Americans start taking their masks off a lot of reckless, possibly infected unvaxxed Americans were going to do so too. With mask mandates suddenly being lifted everywhere, the only way to protect oneself from that latter group was to go out and get jabbed ASAP.

There’s other evidence that Walensky’s announcement may have mattered at the margins. New numbers from KFF found that 12 percent of people who are still in the “wait and see” camp about getting vaccinated said they were now more likely to get their shots because of the new mask guidance. (On the other hand, 82 percent said the guidance made no difference and five percent said it made them less likely to get immunized. Huh?) And yes, there still are lots of Americans who are “waiting and seeing” or even hoping to get vaccinated ASAP. If you believe KFF, 16 percent of the public — tens of millions of people — are considering getting inoculated at this late-ish date. How can we incentivize them? More lotteries? Vaccine passports?

How about … giving them a day off work to deal with the side effects? Because that’s a big, big stumbling block for many, especially Latinos:

That comes from a KFF poll taken last month. Today’s new poll adds this:

Full FDA approval for the vaccines would be nice, as it would neutralize the anti-vaxxer talking point that they’re “experimental,” but the FDA obviously shouldn’t rush approval for political purposes. So the next best thing we can do to make it easier on people to get vaxxed is give them a day off to recover from the shot. It’s amazing in hindsight to think that the many exorbitant federal aid packages that Congress has passed never considered allotting money for two extra days of paid sick leave for that purpose. Maybe Biden can tuck that into the forthcoming infrastructure bill. We’re playing with Monopoly money at this point, after all. We might as well use it to get another 20 million people immunized.