COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the United States

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Anti Vax-Mask protester - Worthington, Ohio - August 14, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the United States is the sociocultural phenomenon of individuals refusing or displaying hesitance towards receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in the United States can be considered as part of the broader history of vaccine hesitancy.


Vaccine hesitancy in the United States towards the COVID-19 vaccines has existed since the early stages of the vaccines' development.[1][2] COVID-19 vaccine-hesitant people are not necessarily anti-vaccine.[3]

Soon after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, preexisting anti-vaxxer social networks started online and in-person campaigns to discredit the developing COVID-19 vaccines targeting United States citizens.[citation needed] Anti-vaccination influencers used Twitter and other social media platforms to spread vaccine misinformation.[4] Some in the medical field have given false credibility to vaccine hesitant beliefs. This caused the Federation of State Medical Boards to issue a statement in July 2021 that any physicians who generate and spread vaccine misinformation or disinformation would risk disciplinary action.[5][6]

President Donald Trump's initial public vaccine hesitancy fueled vaccine skepticism among Republican voters.[7] White House sources revealed in March 2021 that Trump and his wife, Melania, had secretly received the COVID-19 vaccine in January.[8][7] In April 2021, Trump referred to the COVID-19 vaccine as a 'true miracle' and encouraged his supporters to take it.[9] In September 2021, Trump revealed to journalist Adam Shapiro that he received the Pfizer version of the vaccine and encouraged the general public to take the vaccine.[10] In the same interview, Trump blamed president Biden for the public's lack of trust in the vaccine: "When I was president, everybody wanted to get the vaccine... after I left, people don't want to take it and... I think it's because they don't trust Biden."[10]

Ipsos polling data shows that vaccine hesitancy dropped from 63% in September 2020 to 20% in September 2021. The change was accompanied by COVID-19 fatigue, the Delta variant surge, and the FDA's formal approval of the Pfizer vaccine.[11]

Anti-vaccine public figures who died from COVID-19

Many news reports in 2021 noted when those who opposed the use of the vaccine died from COVID-19, though some criticized the practice as celebrating the suffering of others.[12]

In the month of August 2021, a number of conservative talk radio hosts who had discouraged COVID-19 vaccination, or expressed skepticism toward the COVID-19 vaccine, died from COVID-19 complications.[13][14] These included Marc Bernier (self-nicknamed "Mr. Antivax") from Daytona, Florida;[15] Dick Farrel, an anti-vaccine activist who referred to the pandemic as a "SCAM DEMIC";[15] Jimmy DeYoung Sr.;[16] and Phil Valentine.[17] In September 2021, another anti-vaccine conservative radio host, Bob Enyart, died of COVID-19.[18]


The reasons for hesitancy towards COVID-19 vaccine are complex and vary between individuals. They include concerns about side effects of the vaccination,[19] wanting to wait to see if the vaccine is safe,[19] misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines[7] promulgated by conspiracy theories, including incorrect beliefs about vaccines containing microchips, intentional side effects, infertility, and permanent genetic alteration.[7] The belief that previous exposure to virus leads "natural immunity" is also common. [20][21] Additional reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy include fears about long-term health risks of vaccination,[7] belief in the strength of the body's immune system without the vaccine,[21] mistrust in government,[22] and mistrust in mainstream medicine and institutions.[23] Gubernatorial edicts against vaccine mandates, as in Texas, also play a role. [24]


There have been many lawsuits seen throughout the United States aimed against the vaccine mandates that were implemented in 2021. Two Staff Sergeants, one from the Army the other from the Marines, sued three federal agencies against their plans to conduct mandatory vaccination of all military troops, as military regulations state that troops can be exempted from vaccination showing documented previous infection.[25] After the announcement of President Joe Biden of a country wide vaccine mandate in September 2021, many organizations and politicians such as the Republican National Committee, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich stated they would sue the administration.[26]

By profession

Medical professionals

Survey research of medical professionals in the United States shows a majority of the medical community accepts and trusts the COVID-19 vaccines.[27][28] Medical professionals in the United States are vaccinated at a higher rate than the general public they serve.[29] For example, in August 2021 in Alabama, it was estimated 50-60% of hospital staff were vaccinated compared to a <35% vaccination rate for the total state population.[30] Regional vaccination rate in health care professionals parallels that of the local community, where states with higher vaccination rates have higher instances of vaccinated health care workers.[29] In July 2021, the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit American academic medical center with over 60,000 employees, announced they would require staff to get vaccinated.[31]

A group of physicians joined parents and disability advocates in 2021 to form the No License for Disinformation group, which files complaints to the corresponding states medical boards against doctors who have spread false Covid statements.[6]


Active duty and reserve forces

From December 2020 through March 2021, 361,538 service members, or 27.2 percent of the active-duty military, received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.[32] As of August 2021, over 1,000,000 active-duty and reserve forces were at least partially vaccinated.[33] Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, vaccination rates have varied between the branches of the United States Armed Forces from the 74% rate in the Navy to the closer to 50% rate in the Army. On August 25, 2021, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, ordered mandatory vaccinations for most of the country's active duty and reserve forces, directing each branch "to impose ambitious timelines for implementation and to report regularly on vaccination completion using established systems for other mandatory vaccine reporting."[34] The US military will require service members to get the COVID-19 vaccine by September 15, 2021.

In response to the vaccine mandate, an Army staff sergeant and a Marine staff sergeant sued various federal government agencies to grant exemptions on mandatory COVID vaccinations for those who've had the virus.[20] As of September 2021, a judge did not grant a temporary block on mandatory vaccinations and the suit will continue through normal court procedures.[20]


In July 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs mandated the coronavirus vaccines for its more than 100,00 front-line workers, becoming the first federal agency to do so.[31] The VA is working with the American Legion on COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy outreach.[35] On August 28, 2021, during the national convention of the American Legion, speaker Carolyn Clancy, the VA's Assistant Under Secretary for Health, described COVID-19 as an unprecedented public health emergency and encouraged vaccinated veterans to reach out to their peers who are vaccine-hesitant.[35] Clancy also described how 70 VA facilities were part of the vaccine trials during Operation Warp Speed, participation, she said, veterans should be "quite proud of."[35]

As of July 1, 2021, of the 380,000 people who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, 298,186 are fully vaccinated, or 78 percent, a percentage higher than the national average but below what VA officials want for those providing health care.[36] As of July 1, 2021, 20,300 V.A. employees have contracted the coronavirus since March 2020.[36] In late July 2021, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough released a press release announcing he will make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for Title 38 VA health care personnel.[36]

Professional athletes

In Spring 2021, as vaccines became available to professional athletes, several professional leagues encountered substantial vaccine hesitancy among players.[37][38] In August 2021 the Atlanta Falcons, a football team located in Atlanta, Georgia, became the first NFL team to report being fully vaccinated.[39] In September, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the second NFL team to report being fully vaccinated.[40] In July 2021, the National Basketball Association announced that 90% of NBA players were vaccinated.[41] At least one player refused vaccination and was barred from participating.[42] In June 2021, Major League Baseball announced that two-thirds of the MLB teams had reached 85% vaccination rate.[43]

Federal employees

In July 2021, the state of California and the city of New York announced a requirement for state employees to either get vaccinated or face weekly testing.[40] As of July 2021, the Biden administration seeks to increase the vaccination rate of federal employees.[44] As part of this vaccination effort, the administration required all contractors working for the federal government to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing and masking.[45]


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