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As more Americans get vaccinated, 41% of Republicans still refuse COVID-19 shots

As fewer people die from the coronavirus, the pace of vaccinations is stalling, and four out of 10 Republicans say they do not plan to get a vaccine, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll.

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus no longer need to mask up in most situations. But how state and local governments, along with individual businesses, interpret that guidance remains to be seen, and some adults who are vaccinated may be uneasy about adopting the new restrictions.

The worst-case scenario is that unvaccinated people could feel emboldened to go maskless, placing themselves and others at risk of infection, said Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate dean of strategy and innovation at the Brown University School of Public Health.

“That’s a tightrope to walk in terms of messaging,” Ranney said.

The public continues to regard the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response far more favorably than that of President Donald Trump, according to this latest poll, with 66 percent of U.S. adults supporting Biden’s plan to help the country gain control over the virus, up 4 percentage points since March 11.

Trump’s highest approval rating for his handling of the pandemic was 44 percent in March 2020. By the time Trump left office, 39 percent supported his pandemic response.

Entering office during the pandemic, Biden and his team have taken steps to connect people with shots, recruiting vaccinators, arranging transportation, setting up more mass vaccination sites and accelerating the pace of making vaccines available.

How willing are Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19?

The nation’s vaccine rollout continues with roughly six out of 10 U.S. adults having received at least one dose to prevent COVID-19 infection, according to the poll. Many vaccination sites are reporting a slowdown in demand, and public health officials are encouraging walk-ins to avoid wasting temperature-sensitive vaccine doses.

So far, 59 percent of U.S. adults said they have gotten vaccinated, and another 14 percent say they plan to, according to this latest poll. But 24 percent do not plan to get vaccinated. Since August 2020, the percentage of those who do not want to get immunized against COVID-19 has declined by only 9 points — not as much of a change as experts hoped. That concerns public health experts because getting vaccinated is no longer an abstract concept in the U.S. In August, no vaccine had been authorized for use against COVID-19. But today, three different vaccines are widely available in the U.S. and hundreds of millions of Americans have either been vaccinated or know someone who has.

Earlier during the nation’s vaccine rollout, issues with access, such as lack of transportation or Internet access to sign up for appointments, raised concerns about the logistical hurdles separating the public from much-needed protection against the virus. But at this point in the pandemic, politics may be a greater predictor of one’s inclination to get vaccinated. Republicans were less likely to say they’ve already been vaccinated, at 45 percent, and more likely to say they do not plan to get vaccinated, at 41 percent. Just 4 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of independent voters said they do not plan to get vaccinated, according to this latest poll.

Several states and cities are trying creative ways to motivate people to get their shots. On April 27, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice offered a $100 savings bond to each newly vaccinated person between the age of 16 and 35. Weeks later, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said his state would use federal COVID-19 relief funds to set up a lottery where each week one vaccinated person would win $1 million. Newly vaccinated people can drink free beer in Washington, D.C., eat free hot dogs at Coney Island, and enjoy a free pound of crawfish in New Orleans. And the Biden administration has partnered with Lyft and Uber to give people free rides to vaccination sites.

Gimmicky promotions aside, the stakes remain high for getting the country closer to herd immunity against the coronavirus. Nearly 581,000 people in the U.S. have died from the virus. During a briefing with reporters, Andy Slavitt, who serves as senior advisor for the White House COVID-19 Task Force, said that coronavirus deaths “are at the lowest point since April 2020.”

On May 10, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine for emergency use for children ages 12 to 15, expanding the pool of those eligible for immunization and helping the country get closer to reaching herd immunity.

PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey May 4-10 that polled 1,249 U.S. adults (margin of error of 3.3 percentage points) 1,075 registered voters (margin of error of 3.6 percentage points), 737 white Americans (margin of error of 4.3 percentage points, 137 Black Americans (margin of error of 10.1 percentage points) and 187 Latino Americans (margin of error of 8.6 percentage points).