Most Americans believe there is no justifiable religious reason to refuse vaccinations, and a majority also say too many people are using faith merely as an excuse to avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine, new research shows.
The updated Religion and the Vaccine survey released by Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core also found that tensions are brewing between vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans, with a sizeable minority reporting that the strain is bubbling up among relatives.
“One in five Americans (19%) say that disagreements over COVID-19 vaccinations have caused major conflict in their families, compared to 80% who disagree. These reported experiences are generally consistent across political affiliation, religious affiliation, race, education, age and gender,” according to the survey update released Dec. 9.
Hispanics, at 25%, were most likely to report “major conflicts” with family over vaccination, with Hispanic Protestants (27%) and Hispanic Catholics (23%) leading the way.
But anger about vaccines is by no means limited to family circles, according to the survey, which reported 67% of vaccinated Americans agreeing they are mad at vaccine refusers for putting others at risk. That included 39% who “strongly” feel that way.
“This sentiment is higher among those who say they know someone who has died from COVID-19, compared to those who say they do not know anyone who has died (70% vs. 64%, respectively)” from the disease.
A significant percentage of unvaccinated Americans also are bitter, the report added. “More than seven in 10 unvaccinated Americans (71%) say they are ‘angry at those who think they have the right to tell me to get vaccinated against COVID-19,’ compared to 28% who disagree. There are no differences between those who know someone who has died from COVID-19 and those who do not (69% vs. 71%, respectively).”
Political affiliation and media preferences influence the likelihood of that resentment, with 84% of vaccinated Democrats but only 43% of vaccinated Republicans expressing anger at the unvaccinated.
“Vaccinated Republicans who most trust far-right conservative media sources (17%) are significantly less likely than those who trust Fox News the most (36%) and all vaccinated Republicans (43%) to say they are angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated.”
Religion was found to be another contributing factor, the survey found. Majorities of vaccinated religious Americans expressed anger at vaccine refusers, including Jews (89%), the religiously unaffiliated (75%), Hispanic Catholics (73%), Black Protestants (71%), members of other non-Christian faiths (71%), and white mainline Protestants (67%).
The exception among vaccinated people of faith: White evangelicals, at 46%. But even they were outdone by white Christians who have refused to be vaccinated, researchers discovered.
“Majorities of unvaccinated white Christian groups, including white mainline Protestants (87%), white Catholics (87%), and white evangelical Protestants (79%), say they are angry at those who think they have the right to tell them to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Nearly six in 10 unvaccinated religiously unaffiliated Americans (59%) also agree.”
Not keen on faith-based exemptions
The survey also examined attitudes toward faith-based exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Despite half of Americans favoring allowing religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccinations, six in 10 Americans (60%) agree with the statement that ‘There are no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine,’ while 38% disagree.”
“Unsurprisingly, vaccine-acceptant Americans (69%) are much more likely than vaccine-hesitant Americans (36%) and vaccine refusers (19%) to agree that there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a vaccine. Americans who know someone who died from COVID-19 (63%) are slightly more likely than those who do not know anyone who has died (57%) to say the same.”
Also not surprising: White evangelicals, at 41%, were the only faith group in which fewer than half recognized any valid religious reason to refuse the vaccine, PRRI noted.
Respondents also were asked whether the government should allow religious exemptions to vaccination, or mandate vaccines for the safety of society.
“Nearly six in 10 Americans (58%) say they agree more with the first statement that the government should allow religious exemptions, while 41% say the government should still require them to get vaccinated even if they have a sincerely held belief that it would violate the teachings of their religion.”
Vaccine-acceptant respondents were roughly split on the issue, while majorities of most Christian groups said an opt-out from vaccination should be provided, PRRI said.
The survey also examined the question from the standpoint of attendance at religious services. “A majority of Americans who attend religious services at least a few times a year (52%), compared to around two-thirds of Americans who seldom or never attend services (65%), say there are no valid reasons for refusing a vaccine.”
PRRI also reported that most Americans are skeptical about those who claim faith as a rationale not to be vaccinated.
“Further complicating the divisions over religious exemptions, around six in 10 Americans (59%) agree with the statement that ‘Too many people are using religion as an excuse to avoid COVID-19 vaccination requirements,’ while 40% disagree.”
Evangelicals and Protestants of color, both at 38%, were the only religious groups in which majorities disagreed that faith is being used as an excuse to avoid vaccination.
Vaccines not against personal religious beliefs
The survey sought to determine if Americans distinguish between their personal religious beliefs and the teachings of their faith traditions when considering vaccines.
Half of respondents were asked if “receiving the COVID-19 vaccination goes against my religious beliefs” and the rest were asked if “the teachings of my religion prohibit receiving the COVID-19 vaccination.”
Relatively few respondents agreed with either statement, PRRI said. “Americans are only slightly more likely to say that the COVID-19 vaccine goes against their personal religious beliefs (13%) than they are to say that the teachings of their religion prohibit them from getting vaccinated (10%).”
Among vaccine rejecters, a slim majority, at 52%, said vaccination violates their personal religious convictions and one-third of rejecters said vaccination violates the doctrines of their religion.
Party affiliation emerged as a significant factor in attitudes about personal belief and religious teaching.
“Republicans are about twice as likely to say that getting vaccinated goes against their personal religious beliefs (20%) than they are to say that vaccinations violate the teachings of their religion (11%),” the report noted. “Republicans who most trust far-right news outlets are about twice as likely to agree that getting vaccinated violates their personal religious beliefs (41%) than they are to agree that the teachings of their religion prohibit vaccination (22%).”
A vast majority of Americans, including members of all faith groups, said there is no religious prohibition to vaccines for childhood diseases.
“Less than one in 10 Americans (8%) agree that the teachings of their religion prohibit vaccinations for childhood diseases, while 89% disagree, including 72% who strongly disagree,” the survey said. “Notably, there is no religious group in which more than one in five people believe that the teachings of their religion prohibit vaccinations for childhood diseases.”
Loving your neighbor?
A belief that most Americans share, however, is that getting vaccinated “is a way to live out the religious principle of loving my neighbors.” Nearly 60% agreed with that statement.
“With the notable exceptions of white evangelical Protestants (42%) and other Protestants of color (45%), majorities of every other religious group agree that getting vaccinated is a way to practice the principle of loving your neighbors,” PRRI said.
That included 75% of Jewish Americans, 71% of Latter-day Saints, 69% of other non-Christian religious Americans, 66% of Hispanic Catholics, 65% of other Christians and 63% of Black Protestants, the survey reported.
“Just 8% of those who say they will not get vaccinated agree that getting vaccinated is a way of loving your neighbor, compared to 28% of people who are vaccine hesitant.”
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