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Many Trump Voters Oppose Vaccine Passports, New Poll Shows


How can health experts take politics out of coronavirus vaccines? That question has become urgent as some of the same right-leaning voters who recoiled at masks push back on vaccines. Brian Castrucci says the problem is how some officials talk. He's especially concerned about talk of a vaccine passport as a requirement to fly or get into big events.

BRIAN CASTRUCCI: The term vaccine passport pushes every button on the political right - the idea of being forced to take the vaccine, issues of freedom and issues of government overreach.

INSKEEP: Castrucci is an epidemiologist and the president of the Beaumont Foundation (ph). He teamed up with a Republican pollster and found that 47% of Trump voters reject that idea.

CASTRUCCI: I think it's the word. The problem was the mention of a vaccine passport without much detail from the administration. It allowed for a discussion of potential federal government mandates that could threaten our personal liberty or could seem like government overreach. 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.

INSKEEP: Do you mean to say that if they just called it a vaccine card or a yellow form, like the yellow form you use when you fly overseas, there would have been less objection to it?

CASTRUCCI: Well, in our poll, respondents were much more supportive of a vaccine verification because it's a statement of fact and not a government-issued document.

INSKEEP: Can I ask a cynical question and get your best answer? It would be easy for me to say it does not matter what the Biden administration calls this vaccine requirement. Tucker Carlson on Fox News will call it what he wants, and it'll be the least flattering term, and that's what people are going to believe and remember in a certain part of the population.

CASTRUCCI: 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.

INSKEEP: Is it a basic reality of numbers that - to just take a very large group - that a lot of people who voted for Donald Trump need to get their vaccines in order for the country to reach herd immunity?

CASTRUCCI: 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.

INSKEEP: Do you mean to tell me that we could look at a map where we commonly see red and blue states - we divide people that way - and it might actually be outbreak areas and non-outbreak areas at some point because of greater acceptance of the vaccine in different places?

CASTRUCCI: 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. And if you're not going to do it because you're concerned about COVID, do it for a family member. Do it because you really want to go to Disney World or go see a college football game this fall. That's how we're going to get back to those things.

INSKEEP: 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, is to provide some kind of ID.

CASTRUCCI: 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.

INSKEEP: Cast it, then, as something good that you can go get.

CASTRUCCI: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Brian Castrucci, thank you so much.

CASTRUCCI: Thank you, Steve. It's an honor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.