Growing conservative backlash to the idea of “vaccine passports” — proposed by some private-sector industries to promote a safer environment as states begin to ease coronavirus restrictions — could make Republicans even less likely to get their shots, experts warned.
Last month, multiple polls found that about half of Republicans or those who identified as having voted for former President Donald Trump either want to wait and see before getting vaccinated or say they will never get the shots. So-called vaccine hesitancy among Republicans could stand in the way of the U.S.’s ultimately achieving herd immunity, which scientists estimate will be reached when 70 percent to 85 percent of the population has Covid-19 antibodies.
“The idea of a vaccine passport has become politicized quickly, making it a wedge separating people rather than a bridge to our goal of increasing vaccination,” said epidemiologist Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, which has partnered with a longtime Republican pollster to study and create pro-vaccination messaging aimed at conservatives.
Vaccine hesitancy among the partisan group has remained steady even as prominent Republicans have begun to directly encourage vaccinations.
Last month, Trump said the vaccines were “safe” and effective, telling Fox News: “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Monday: “I want to say to everyone we need to take this vaccine. These reservations need to be put aside.”
The vaccine passport debate could further complicate what Castrucci said was the “most urgent goal”: getting everyone vaccinated. For more than a week, the concept has come under intense scrutiny on some of Fox News’ most popular programs and from politicos and pundits on the right.
Conservatives have criticized such passports, as they did earlier government restrictions, like lockdowns and mask mandates, as potential government overreach and a violation of patient privacy — a point the American Civil Liberties Union has echoed.
Biden administration officials have been careful to stress that the government will not mandate such passports, nor will it maintain a federal database. Discussions about implementing passports are still at an early stage.
A.J. Bauer, an assistant professor of journalism and creative media at the University of Alabama who studies the conservative media ecosystem, said the passport debate is the latest instance of “applying culture war logic to the slow process of getting back to normal from Covid” by influential figures on the right.
Ric Grenell, who was acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, and Josh Mandel, a Republican candidate for the Senate in Ohio, compared the idea to Nazism. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said any company requiring one for entry would be promoting “corporate…