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COVID-19

Poll Finds Republicans Particularly Opposed To 'Vaccine Passport' Messaging

A healthcare worker displays a COVID-19 vaccine record card at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in December.
A healthcare worker displays a COVID-19 vaccine record card at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in December.

People who voted for Donald Trump were already some of the most likely to oppose getting vaccinated.

Now a poll shows the idea of a document, sometimes called a "passport," showing proof of vaccination is unpopular with that group as well. Forty-seven percent of Trump voters oppose this type of document, compared with 10% of Biden voters, the survey shows.

To be clear, the federal government has no plans for anything like this. But there are some efforts at the state level and among private institutions to give people the option of getting a document to do things like speed up and simplify travel.

A lot of the problem with a "passport" has to do with phrasing.

"The term 'vaccine passports' pushes every button on the political right — the idea of being forced to take the vaccine, issues of freedom and issues of government overreach," says Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, an advocacy and research group focused on public health.

The de Beaumont Foundation's new poll on attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines and how to document vaccinations was done with Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

The idea of a passport "allowed for discussion of potential federal government mandates that could threaten our personal liberty or could seem like government overreach," Castrucci, who is also an epidemiologist, tells Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition. "The Biden administration smartly said that there would not be a federal mandate or a vaccine database, but it was too late. It was already politicized."

The poll found that both Trump and Biden voters were much more supportive of a "verification" instead of a "passport." It's because "it's a statement of fact and not a government-issued document," Castrucci says.

He talked to NPR's Morning Edition about how messaging can impact getting vaccines to hesitant people. Here are excerpts, edited for length and clarity:

Can I ask a cynical question? It would be easy for me to say it does not matter what the Biden administration calls this. Tucker Carlson on Fox News will call it what he wants. And that's what people are going to believe and remember in a certain part of the population.

That's why we have to get politics out of this debate. Any time you have a political debate, there's a winner and a loser. If we don't get Americans vaccinated, we all lose. This needs to be a conversation had by state and local health officials and other medical professionals. Let's not even introduce it into politics so that we don't politicize yet another very important tool in the public health tool chest. We don't need vaccine passports to become mask wearing 2.0. We need to make sure that people have the facts that they need and the freedom to make the choice. And they want to hear from doctors. They want to hear from clergy. They want to hear from their spouses, not politicians. We have to start having conversations throughout this country, across the dinner table.

Is it a basic reality of numbers that a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump need to get their vaccines in order for the country to reach herd immunity?

We can't get to herd immunity with only one party or just with the coasts. It has to be a nationwide effort. And so that's why it's so important right now for us to be reaching out to any group that has vaccine concern. And right now, that tends to be Republican voters.

Do you mean to tell me that we could look at a map where we commonly see red and blue states, and it might actually be outbreak areas and nonoutbreak areas?

I think that's very possible. And it's not good for us as a country, because the more that we have viral transmission, we have an opportunity for variants to develop that could break through the vaccines. For us to get back to the way of life that we had before the outbreak we have to all understand that getting the vaccine is the most important thing that we can do.

This is coming at a moment where we're having this huge national debate about voter ID and how much is reasonable to require of people. And that's essentially what you're asking people with this vaccine requirement, to provide some kind of ID.

Having a requirement that prohibits people who don't have the vaccination from engaging in normal life — that's a restriction. We need incentives. The Krispy Kreme doughnuts are an incentive. Anyone who has a vaccine card can get a Krispy Kreme doughnut. There have been businesses that have given their employees days off or bonuses to get the vaccine. Those are incentives. We need more private sector incentives and almost no government mandates.

Chad Campbell, Denise Couture and Victoria Whitley-Berry produced and edited the audio interview. James Doubek produced for the Web.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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