White US evangelicals ‘hesitant’ to get Covid jab

In the United States a person's willingness to get vaccinated against Covid-19 varies by religious affiliation, with white evangelicals being the least likely demographic to get the vaccine, the Pew Research Centre has found. Nine out of 10 atheists would definitely or probably get a vaccine or have already had one, compared to 77% of Catholics the survey of more than 10,000 adults in February 2021 found. By comparison, 45% of white evangelicals said they would definitely or probably not get the vaccine. Psychologist Jamie Aten told BBC World News that for some people Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy could stem from political views or a sign of tribalism in the same way that some people refuse to wear masks. For others a mistrust of government and misinformation on social media were also a deciding factor in jab hesitancy, he said.

Video Transcript

JAMIE ATEN: There's a number of different reasons why white evangelicals are hesitant to get vaccinated. For some, it stems from political views. From others, it's a sign of tribalism, in the same way that some refuse to wear a mask, that now this is the latest in which they are identifying themselves. For many people, there's also a sense of them being hesitant because of mistrust of government.

- How much misinformation is out there, as well?

JAMIE ATEN: Significant misinformation. And that's one of the biggest reasons why I think we're seeing so many white evangelicals who are hesitant to get vaccinated, that as we've been in this pandemic, and many people being quarantined, for some, the only interactions they're having with others is online, whether that's through media, social media. And it's really created an echo chamber where they're only interacting with people that have similar beliefs. And unfortunately, for many, misinformation.

- You mentioned politics, James. How much is this a health issue, and how much of it is a political one for people?

JAMIE ATEN: I think a lot of people do have some serious concerns about medical issues, just including like some of the individuals that you were just interviewing, because of fears that that could happen to them. But by and large, I think especially among the white evangelical community in the United States, I think politicism is largely what's driving this, that in many ways, COVID-19 has been taken from being a public health issue, which is how it should be viewed, and turned into a political issue.

- So leadership at this point, then, must be crucially important.

JAMIE ATEN: Absolutely. And I have been able to work under the last administration, you know, like in terms of visiting the White House for-- and meeting and working with faith communities, and also the previous administration before that, under President Obama. And I was able to see a clear difference between the two, where, unfortunately, President Trump, many of his views were actually making the crisis much worse and fueling the flames of misinformation.

And I've been really encouraged attending regular weekly meetings with the White House's faith-based partnerships. And one of the things that I've seen from President Biden has been a very strong leadership role and clearly commuting, especially with the faith community. I was actually on a call last week, and was just really moved by the way that he's reaching out and taking extra steps to engage the faith community in healthy ways.

- Speaking to virologists and epidemiologists over these many months, I've been struck by how many say they are concerned about what they see as an increasing distrust around science, basically. Is that also broadly happening within the evangelical faith, too?

JAMIE ATEN: Yes, that's something that is going on, and has been going on. If you look across the history of the US, there's been a major tension for really the history of our country between both science and faith. You can look back, for instance, to the Scope trials, where you saw science, in some ways, being put on trial. But at the same time, faith communities have also been put on trial, to some extent, early on. So as a psychologist myself, in terms of my training, that there was a long history of stigmatism against people of faith. That's drastically changed and improved, I'm glad to say, but that lingering between that tension continues to remain today.