In the social media fog-of-war, it can sometimes feel like people today have lost their minds. There are few better examples of this than the rise in vaccine-related misinformation and conspiracy theory. “Anti-vax” misinformation certainly started long before the COVID pandemic, but it has completely exploded in the last year and a half, fueled not only by lies and misinformation spread by the former President, but also by paid social media influencers. Between theories about vaccines including microchips or cells from aborted fetuses, making the recipient magnetic or even levitating, knocking down the latest crazy rumor is a game of whack-a-mole.
Fortunately, we now have evidence that North Carolinians aren’t falling for it. In the latest Carolina Forward poll, we found that by almost a 2-to-1 margin, voters support making the COVID vaccine compulsory in schools and childcare and healthcare setttings, just like many other immunizations today:
As any parent already knows, state law already requires several immunizations for any child entering public schools or university, including polio, hepatitis, measles and meningitis. Mandatory vaccines have been with us a very long time - in fact, in 1959, North Carolina was the very first state to require that all children be inoculated for polio.
This poll found that support for vaccination wasn’t concentrated in just one constituency or group, but broadly distributed across our state’s society. While self-identified Republicans were the sole holdouts, even there, more than a third of respondents supported compulsory vaccines. We know that, unfortunately, anti-vax hysteria has worked its way into far-right circles. HB 558, a Republican bill that would have completely abolished mandatory vaccinations in North Carolina, won a dozen co-sponsors in the NC House this year. It even attracted a small protest in downtown Raleigh.
According to the NC DHHS, 44% of North Carolinians have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine as of this writing. That demonstrates remarkable progress in vaccinations under Governor Cooper and Secretary Cohen’s leadership. Nevertheless, our state, like others, has its share of vaccine holdouts. But hold your horses on stereotyping about them - because you’re likely wrong.
This Data For Progress analysis of vaccine holdouts shows that rural, low-information residents and people of color deeply suspicious of the scientific-medical complex are the most likely to be “very unlikely” to get the vaccine. Among those who are “very unlikely,” a majority are Trump voters or did not vote. Convincing this population that being vaccinated is safe, and also confers safety benefits on the people around you, may be critical to improving their willingness.
Most experts agree that COVID is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future - possibly even for a very long time to come. It’s very possible that COVID could become seasonally epidemic, like the flu, requiring regular boosters to maintain immunity. In this case, adding the COVID vaccine to the list of compulsory immunizations in settings where people regularly congregate is sensible and pragmatic public policy. It seems that North Carolinians themselves strongly agree.