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Could these 5 facts change vaccine-hesitant Republicans’ minds?

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Trump could change public opinion on the vaccine, but one focus group came to different conclusions after hearing five facts

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World War II veteran Spencer J. Britton, 95, receives his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at The Lodge at North Ogden on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll released last week found 41% of Republicans said they would not be vaccinated, compared with 11% of Democrats and 34% of independents.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

There’s a sharp partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to getting a vaccine against the coronavirus. Closing that gap will be crucial to bringing the pandemic to an end in the U.S., but there are different opinions on the best way to do that.

An NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll released last week found 41% of Republicans said they would not be vaccinated, compared with 11% of Democrats and 34% of independents. The two subgroups with the highest levels of vaccine hesitancy were Republican men, 49% who said they wouldn't be vaccinated, and people who supported former President Donald Trump in 2020, at 47%.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he believed Trump could make “all the difference in the world” if he told his supporters to get the vaccine.

“He’s a very widely popular person among Republicans,” Fauci said on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace. “If he came out and said ‘Go and get vaccinated, it’s really important to your health, the health of your family, and the health of the country,’ it seems absolutely inevitable that the vast majority of people who are his close followers would listen to him.”

While Trump did tell listeners to “go get your shot” while speaking at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, he otherwise hasn’t been vocal in support of vaccination efforts.

Trump was the only living former president not to appear in an Ad Council public service announcement promoting the vaccine, and he didn’t publicize his own vaccination, which he received in January, when he was still in office. Word of Trump’s vaccination wasn’t made public until The New York Times published the news earlier this month.

Not everyone is convinced Trump’s help is necessary, though. President Joe Biden said Monday that it’s up to local leaders.

“The thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say,” Biden said. Some Republicans agree with him.

In a focus group held over Zoom, pollster Frank Luntz spoke with 20 vaccine-hesitant Trump voters about what would change their minds. The group wasn’t moved by the PSA with the former presidents or even a PSA with Fox News hosts, according to The Washington Post.

What was effective, however, were facts shared by Dr. Tom Frieden, a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director during the Obama administration. A majority of the focus group said their minds were changed after Frieden shared the five following facts:

  1. If you get infected with the virus, it will go all over your body and stay there for at least a week and be much more likely to cause you long-term problems than the vaccine.
  2. If you get the vaccine, it will prime your immune system, but then the vaccine is gone, it will not be with you anymore.
  3. More than 95% of the doctors who have been offered this vaccine have gotten it as soon as they can.
  4. The more we vaccinate, the faster we can get back to growing our economy and getting jobs.
  5. If people get vaccinate, we’re going to save at least 100,000 lives of Americans who would otherwise be killed by COVID-19.

A woman in the focus group identified as Sue from Iowa said she appreciated when politics wasn’t involved in the discussion.

“I liked the doctors, I liked the medical situation when they give us the facts and talk to us without any politics involved,” she said. “I think that helps me see that my bias was probably with the political side of it getting involved.”

Luntz tweeted Monday that the findings from the focus group, conducted with the de Beaumont Foundation, “will be my most important work this year.”

Last November, the Ad Council announced a goal to raise $50 million for a campaign to encourage vaccinations. The Ad Council said its “It’s Up To You” initiative is one of the largest public education efforts in American history, with support from more than 300 brands, media companies, community-based organizations, faith leaders, medical experts, and others.