Utah's vaccination rate spiked after the Church of Latter-day Saints issued a strong statement encouraging vaccinations, then decreased in the weeks that followed.
"To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible," the church's statement read. "To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective."
The governing body, known as the First Presidency, reportedly instructed California Mormon leaders not to sign religious exemptions to the vaccine. The state of Utah is 61% Mormon.
Some 65% of Mormom church members said they support vaccination, according to a July report by the Public Religion Research Institute. The remaining 35%, however, stand to threaten the Mormon church's long-held tradition of large public religious gatherings.
A week after the church's announcement encouraging vaccination, Utah's seven-day vaccine administration average rose from 7,204 to 8,076, Newsweek reported. The following week, the average dipped to 7,517 before falling to 7,267 the next week.
Matt Harris, an expert on Mormon history at Colorado State University Pueblo, says that the minority of Mormons resisting the vaccine are "accustomed to conspiracy theories" and are absorbing information outside of the instruction of the First Presidency.
"Because they become accustomed to these conspiracy theories over the years, it's easy for Latter-day Saints today to think the election was stolen or that vaccines are evil," Harris explained. "This is the way by which they've been indoctrinated into viewing the world and also government."
The John Birch Society, an entity connected to former Mormon leader Ezra Taft Benson, is to blame for the minority of Mormons who fall into this category, Harris says. Benson served as the church's 13th president and prophet from 1985-1994, introducing far-right and anti-communist influence to the church.
"Benson and his scouts had planted the seeds over at least three or four decades," Harris explained. "When Trump was elected in 2016, it sort of brought all of this to the surface."
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Original Author: Matthew Miller