Aamong white evangelicals, resistance to Covid-19 vaccines has remained stubbornly high, with polls in recent months suggesting that between 30% and 40% have refused to be vaccinated, the highest proportion among any religious groups surveyed .
So a group of researchers had an idea.
Sociologists from Stanford and Columbia asked 1,765 unvaccinated, self-identified white Christians to watch a short video in which then NIH director Francis Collins – a white evangelical himself – responded to questions. questions about the safety and efficacy of Covid vaccines. Participants also read an essay describing support for immunization within the medical community.
Some of those interviewed saw an introduction to the video in which Collins declared his “trust in Jesus as the source of all truth” – and were told that “many medical experts are people of faith”.
While confidence in medical experts among the group who saw the version without Collins confirming his faith was 56 on a 100-point scale, it was 64 in the group who saw and heard his statement. “Intention to vaccinate” among the first group obtained 34; in the second group it was 38. “It’s a modest effect, but from a small video,” said James Chu, a sociologist at Columbia University and one of the study’s authors. . “If we had had a stronger treatment where we bombarded them with ads, I’m sure it would have had a stronger effect.”
The study is part of emerging research that suggests that appealing to the faith of white evangelicals could make even a small dent in their stagnant immunization rates. For many scientists, this points to an age-old public health truism: If you want to reach a population that is resistant or unwilling to take action, you need to carefully tailor your message.
The video of Collins, who resigned from his NIH job last month, was made in partnership with a pro-vaccination organization called Christians and the Vaccine. Collins told STAT he was unaware that it was used in Chu’s study until it was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Collins said the use of her post provided “a very public opportunity to see how this might influence decision making for people who might be hesitant about vaccines based on their faith.”
âIt’s heartbreaking, frankly,â Collins said. “They are mine, and to see how this group of people who are very dedicated to their faith and dedicated to loving their neighbors has kind of been drawn into this position of mistrust and mistrust is heartbreaking.”
Throughout the pandemic, Collins has appeared on podcasts with leaders across the religious spectrum, including white evangelical leaders Rick Warren and Franklin Graham. His goal was “to encourage the people on the benches and their pastors to really step back from all the misinformation and embrace vaccines as answers to prayer.”
Pastoralists have a potentially valuable role to play in scaling up immunizations. John Jenkins, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Maryland, worked with a local hospital to start a Covid-19 vaccination center at his black Evangelical mega-church and has brought in medical experts to lecture since the flesh. He appealed to the community values ââof the people to ensure “the best interests of the rest of the congregation.” In total, the clinic administered 40,000 vaccines between March and June 2021.
âIt was a community affair,â said Jenkins, who also recorded his own vaccination to build trust among parishioners.
But among some white evangelical leaders, there has been a reluctance to encourage vaccination because their supporters are hesitant, said Curtis Chang, co-founder of Christians and the Vaccine. âThere is an underlying suspicion among white evangelicals about public health,â he said. “No one did the job of convincing white evangelical leaders to come up with a single strong joint statement.”
Collins sees the vaccine decline coming from two places. âMuch of this was triggered by conspiracies on social media,â he said. “Part of it came from mixing politics with faith positions, which I think in regards to vaccines has been pretty unfortunate.”
The poll that found a vaccine refusal rate of 30%, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, investigated the reasons. One may be government mistrust: White Evangelical Protestants were the only significant religious group in which a majority of respondents believed the federal government was persisting in other treatments and promoting vaccines instead. Another reason could be in the way evangelicals understand public health. Only 42% of white Evangelical Protestants agreed that getting the vaccine is one way of putting the principle of loving neighbor into practice. This compares to 51% of Hispanic Protestants, 59% of non-evangelical white Protestants, and 63% of black Protestants.
âPolitics came before faith, challenge before worry and rights before love,â Robert P. Jones, founder of PRRI and white evangelical, recently wrote in Sojourners, an online magazine about faith and love. Culture. âI have personally been constantly frustrated – and, yes, angry – by the response of my fellow white Christians, especially white evangelicals, to the pandemic. “
The Department of Health and Social Services is trying to change things. It set up a Covid-19 Community Corps in April 2021 that includes groups ranging from the American Medical Association and the Infectious Diseases Society of America to AME Zion Church and the National Association of Evangelicals. The White House has held meetings with religious leaders and President Biden has participated in several events.
There was movement. While a March 2021 PRRI poll showed that only 45% of evangelical white Protestants would accept a vaccine, in November, 65% said they would accept one. But the group falls far short of white non-evangelical Protestants and black and Hispanic Protestants, groups that include both evangelicals and non-evangelicals.
There may be fewer opportunities to intercede among the most resilient. The November poll found that only 14% of unvaccinated white Evangelical Protestants said they could be persuaded by a “religious approach,” such as being encouraged by a church leader.
“I think we have work to do in the area of ââresearching how people make these kinds of medical decisions,” said Collins, who, before stepping down as director of the NIH, initiated discussions on studies to find out how people embrace disinformation and how to combat it. “If science is to be able to do anything for our nation now or in the future, then it must do so because it discerns the truth and then shares it.” But if this kind of truth is immediately seen as suspect, then we are in real trouble. “