A new survey of Americans showed that atheists are more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine than any other religious group (atheism isn’t really a religious group). It’s ironic that I consider the anti-vaccine beliefs check all of the boxes of the definition of a religion.
Despite my admittedly clickbait title, this survey showed some interesting results regarding American’s attitudes to the COVID-19 vaccine, including an improvement in the desire to get the vaccine by people of color. But what is troubling that the predicted uptake may not help us reach the herd immunity level to stop this pandemic.
The Pew Research Center survey on COVID-19 vaccine
On 5 March 2021, the Pew Research Center, a widely respected nonpartisan American think tank, published (pdf file) a survey of 10,121 Americans’ attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine. There was a lot of data to explore about their study, so let me hit the highlights.
Approximately 69% (with a margin of error of ± 1.6%) of respondents have either already received one of the COVID-19 vaccines or are probably or definitely will get it. Assuming that this level of vaccination is accurate, the next question would be “is it good enough for herd immunity.”
Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has become immune to an infection, whether through vaccination or previous infections, thereby reducing the likelihood of infection for individuals who lack immunity.
Now, herd immunity is a difficult number to establish, and it is derived from the basic reproduction number R0, or the average number of new infections caused by each case in an entirely susceptible population that is homogeneous, and the percentage of the population that is susceptible. Then some scientist tosses those numbers into an equation to get the estimated herd immunity level.
This model shows how a vaccine with 100 percent efficacy that gives lifelong protection, with an assumed R0 of 2.5 to 3.5, results in a herd immunity threshold around 60 to 72 percent. If vaccine efficacy drops to 80 percent, then the threshold becomes 75 to 90 percent.
So the efficacy of the vaccines, which aren’t 100% may increase the herd immunity threshold to around 75%. And the SARS-CoV-2 variants that are popping up around the world may drop the vaccine effectiveness to much lower levels, meaning the herd immunity target goes up.
If only 69% of Americans get the vaccine, then we might just be at the level that provides herd immunity, but it would be iffy. I think that most scientists.
This survey gave some interesting data that may or may not surprise the reader.
The reasons for not getting the vaccine seem to echo the tropes and myths that have been debunked over and over by real scientists. Of course, we should not dismiss these concerns and continue to provide information that can help ease these concerns. Devout anti-vaxxers probably can’t be convinced of anything, but those on the fence may help us up the vaccination uptake.
Although I think the press in the United States has made it appear that people of color are anti-vaccine, we all know that most of the most vehement anti-vaccine groups are super-majority white. Nevertheless, public health officials, celebrities, and many others have made an effort to increase the vaccine uptake in those non-white communities, and the results seem to be positive.
About 61% of blacks, compared to 69% of whites, have either received the vaccine or plan to get it. This is a huge increase from the 40% seen in Fall 2020. I hope this continues to improve so that we don’t have communities of color that are susceptible to COVID-19 outbreaks in the future.
And unsurprisingly, Republicans hate the restrictions on public activity while Democrats want more restrictions. I know that much of that results from the utter lack of support of public health mandates by Donald Trump, but it is sad that it continues.
Finally, let’s take a look at mask mandates themselves:
I know that you know that I am not a fan of anecdotes, but from my observations in most stores, people mostly follow the mask mandates in my area of California. And they mostly wear them correctly.
The survey of atheists and the COVID-19 vaccine
Of course, this poll isn’t just about atheists and the COVID-19 vaccine, but it certainly caught my interest when I reviewed it. There was one chart that caught my eye:
Yes, 90% of atheists will get the COVID-19 vaccine according to this survey. Why is this? Probably because atheists are the ultimate scientific skeptics, and they understand that the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine far exceed the claims made by those who are opposed to the vaccine.
That being said, it’s sad that certain religious groups, like evangelical Christians who are generally far right wing on the political scale, are at around 54% in support of getting or have gotten the vaccine. If they understood natural selection, they would see evolution at work in their choices.
At any rate, this survey mostly provides us with what we know about American attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine. We’re almost to the point that we can have herd immunity – I’m hoping that with Joe Biden’s constant refrains about the vaccine, we might reach 80-85% vaccinated. And if the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t mutate into some new virulent form, we might be able to enjoy this summer.
Of course, there’s one more thing that has nothing to do with this survey. Even after I receive my COVID-19 vaccine (hoping it’s the JNJ version, because I just want one and done), I’ll be wearing my mask. I haven’t had a cold, the flu (yes, I am flu vaccinated), gastrointestinal distress, or anything since I wore masks and thoroughly washed my hands. I’m wondering how many of you will do the same thing.
And hell yes to us atheists – we will be vaccinated!
- Fontanet A, Cauchemez S. COVID-19 herd immunity: where are we? Nat Rev Immunol. 2020 Oct;20(10):583-584. doi: 10.1038/s41577-020-00451-5. PMID: 32908300; PMCID: PMC7480627.
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