WBUR – All Massachusetts residents age 16 and older can now sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine, but that doesn’t mean everyone eligible will want the shot.
In the coming weeks, state public health officials expect demand to slow down, and the hardest push, many believe, will be reaching out to those who are reluctant. That includes Republican men, who were some of the most hesitant in recent national polling.
Town clerk and librarian Jodie Paradis has seen this hesitation in Russell, a town of just under 2,000 residents in southwestern Massachusetts. Russell is 96 percent white and mostly Republican. In 2020, nearly 60% of voters there supported Donald Trump in the presidential election, the largest percentage in the commonwealth.
“I think a lot of Russell residents will choose not to get the vaccine,” Paradis said. “They truly either believe that it [COVID] is not real or that it’s no worse than the common cold.”
Paradis says she hears many concerns from residents about the vaccine.
“That the vaccine was created much too quickly and may not be reliable at all,” she explained, “but also just a suspicion of what we could be injected with.”
These concerns are not unique to Republicans or Trump voters. Misinformation about the vaccine abounds online. But national polling suggests they are some of the most likely to say they won’t get the COVID vaccine.
A recent NPR/PBS/Marist poll found 49 percent of Republican men and 47 percent of voters who supported Trump don’t plan to get the shot. And respondents from rural areas were also more reluctant.
There are outreach efforts underway across the state to urge as many residents as possible to get vaccinated, including even a video from former Red Sox all-star David Ortiz.
But celebrity videos and advertising campaigns likely won’t work for everyone, according to Anthony Dell’Aera, an assistant political science professor at Worcester State University. Dell’Aera says concerns that come from an ideological mistrust of government will be very hard to change.
“If anyone can persuade them it’s likely to be people in their own immediate circles, like family or friends, or clergy or their own doctor,” he said, not public figures.
Dell’Aera thinks a more personal touch is likely to have a bigger impact. That’s the approach Tom Mountain, vice chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, has embraced. He says many of his conservative friends are skeptical, and he was too, until he got COVID last December. Since then, Mountain says he has been telling everyone in his circle to get vaccinated. His pitch: “The COVID virus is lethal, it’s real, it’s out there, and it is not going to go away unless everybody gets vaccinated.”