Do we need a vaccination sales pitch to white Christians — or moms?

Isn’t it a Christian duty to perform works for the common good, NBC News asks today? Indeed it is, but whether that’s the main problem with vaccination hesitancy is another question. Nevertheless, NBC headlines this effort at NIH to engage Christians especially on overcoming skepticism and pitching in to end the pandemic:

The thrust of a new campaign to persuade mostly white born-again and evangelical Christians who have been unwilling to get Covid-19 vaccinations is a variation on the Golden Rule — do it for others if you won’t do it for yourself.

And the main driver behind the Christians and the Vaccine project backs up his contention that that is what Jesus would do by both citing the Bible and tapping the expertise of secular public health experts like Dr. Francis Collins, who heads the National Institutes of Health.

“It is necessary for others in the world that we Christians take the vaccine,” Curtis Chang, a theologian and founder of the Redeeming Babel site, wrote in one section. Christians and the Vaccine is a project of Redeeming Babel. “Given our numbers in the U.S. and in many parts of the world, what Christians decide will determine whether the world achieves herd immunity and whether the vaccine succeeds in bringing the pandemic to an end.” …

The message isn’t yet resonating with born-again or evangelical Christians, which is how about a quarter of Americans identify their faith, according to recent polls by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Chang is certainly correct, theologically speaking. The Vatican has tried to get that message out early and often, with Pope Francis and the Congregation for the Defense of Faith declaring in December that Catholics had a duty to get vaccinated for the common good. They reiterated that stance last month despite concerns over the use of fetal stem-cell lines in development and/or testing of the vaccines, which has also been a sticking point among evangelicals. The need for solidarity in a pandemic outweighs those ethical concerns, the CDF insists, especially since the connection between those vaccinated and the original abortions is so distant and tenuous — although they warn that the producers are still morally culpable for having used those tissues.

How much of a problem is this segment when it comes to vaccine hesitancy? Substantial within their own demographic, but …

Forty percent of white born-again or evangelical Christians said they weren’t likely to get vaccinated, compared with 25 percent of all Americans, 28 percent of white mainline Protestants and 27 percent of nonwhite Protestants.

Overall, the numbers of these skeptics is pretty small when compared to the overall population. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth tailoring a message to overcome their hesitancy, but it might mean that the focus on them might not be the best immediate investment. For instance, a new Morning Consult poll identifies a larger cohort of vaccination skeptics — mothers:

I’d be hard pressed to come up with specific numbers on this, but I’d guess that half of all moms uncertain or unwilling to get vaccinated amounts to many more people than 40% of all white born-again Christians. A look through the other demos shows other bigger problems than just “white evangelicals,” too:

  • 18-34 year olds: 48% uncertain or unwilling
  • Blacks: 48%
  • Republicans: 42%
  • Under $50K income: 42%
  • 35-44 year olds: 41%
  • Not college graduates: 41%

Morning Consult drills down further into its crosstabs to note subdemos with even greater resistance, although fewer overall numbers:

  • Rural dwellers with low income: 52%
  • Black adults: 52%
  • Republican women: 53%

Interestingly, the ethnic demo with the best uptake so far of vaccines is whites, with 53% already vaccinated and another 16% planning to get vaccinated for a total uptake potential of 69%. Among blacks, it’s 52% and 62% among Hispanics, and 71% among “others,” presumably primarily Asian-Americans.

With those numbers in mind, it’s curious that NBC News focuses so much on white born-again Christians for campaigning against vaccine hesitancy.  The big challenge appears to be getting mothers to roll up their sleeves. Certainly we can aim PSAs at multiple demos at the same time, and let’s hope we do, but let’s also hope that we’re prioritizing them in the proper order.

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