Gov. Reynolds says vaccine hesitancy is a problem, but doesn’t acknowledge refusal to be vaccinated among Iowa Republicans

Video still of Gov. Kim Reynolds during her April 21, 2021 news conference.

Gov. Kim Reynolds started her news conference on Wednesday by noting the progress the state has made getting Iowans vaccinated against COVID-19. According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, 53 percent of Iowa residents 18 or older have had at least one dose of vaccine.

But the state is also seeing people either refusing to be vaccinated or demonstrating reluctance to do so. IDPH said on Tuesday that 43 of Iowa’s 99 counites had declined their weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccines, because they still had sufficient quantities left over from the previous week. That’s more than double than 21 counties who declined their allotment last week.

Twelve of the counties that declined their vaccine allotments this week — Clay, Clayton, Dickinson, Emmet, Fremont, Ida, Lyon, O’Brien, Palo Alto, Sac, Taylor and Woodbury — have high rates of COVID-19 infection, according the CDC.

The governor acknowledged the slowing demand for vaccine in parts of Iowa, but pointed that other parts of the country are also experiencing a decline in the pace of vaccinations.

“Vaccine hesitancy is beginning to become a real factor across the country,” Reynolds said. “A study published earlier this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation takes a closer look at vaccine uptake and the intention among specific demographic groups.”

The only demographics the governor cited at her news conference involved age.

“When it comes to age, young and middle-aged adults are least willing to be vaccinated,” Reynolds said. “Fifty percent of adults 18 to 39 said they’d ‘wait and see’ before being vaccinated, and that’s compared to 28 percent among adults 40 to 59.”

According to the governor, she was citing the Kaiser Family Foundation’s (KFF) most recent report on vaccinations, but KFF does not present its data using the categories Reynolds did. People between the ages of 18 and 39 fall into two categories in KFF reports: 18-29 and 30-49. Likewise, those over the age of 40 fall into either the category 50-64 or 65 and older in KFF reports.

KFF’s COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor, based on the latest polling data the foundation has, indicates 25 percent of people 18 to 29 said they would “wait and see” regarding the vaccine, as did 18 percent of those 30 to 49.

Part of the hesitancy on the part of younger people may be confusion over whether they are eligible for vaccination, according KFF’s April 16 report. Its most recent poll, conducted the week of March 15, found 40 percent of younger adults were uncertain if they qualified for a dose of vaccine.

As of Monday, everyone 16 and older in the United States became eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination. In Iowa, that eligibility began on April 5.

KFF looked at numerous demographic factors in its most recent report on vaccinations. For example, it found education is “a dividing factor in vaccination intentions, with college-educated adults more likely than those without college degrees to say they’ve already gotten vaccinated or will do so as soon as they can.”

The report also found a major division in vaccine intention between urban and rural residents: “One in five rural residents also say they will definitely not get vaccinated, about twice the share as in urban areas, a gap largely explained by the concentration of Republicans and White Evangelical Christians who live there.”

Republicans, particularly those who identify as evangelical Christians, are among those most reluctant to be vaccinated, according to KFF’s data.

“About eight in ten Democrats (79%) are eager to get the vaccine or say they have done so already, compared to nearly six in ten independents (57%) and just under half of Republicans (46%). About three in ten Republicans (29%) say they will ‘definitely not’ get vaccinated, a share that has not changed substantially over time,” the report states.

“In addition, 28% of White Evangelical Christians say they will definitely not get the vaccine, reflecting the fact that two-thirds (66%) of this group either identifies as Republican or leans towards the Republican party.”

An Iowa Poll published last month found 41 percent of the respondents who identified themselves as Republicans said they have no intention of being vaccinated against COVID-19. Among those who said they voted for Donald Trump in the last election, that number rose to 45 percent.

In a story published Tuesday on Iowa counties turning down their vaccine allocation, the Associated Press’s David Pitt pointed out that the 12 counties with high virus activity that declined this week’s shipments are all heavily Republican counties according voter registration data.

At Reynolds’ news conference on Wednesday, Pitt asked the governor about the partisan divide in attitudes towards vaccination. He cited a new AP poll that found self-identified Republicans and conservatives are among those most reluctant to be vaccinated. That is in keeping with other national polls, including the KFF poll Reynolds was referencing.

“So how do you get to those people who have a philosophical, perhaps political opposition to the vaccine?” Pitt asked.

“Well, I’ve laid out some of the dynamics and the age brackets is where we’re seeing the largest hesitancy,” the governor said. “And that’s your poll, but I would like to think we need to look larger-scale, and we need to do a really deep dive and take a look at why, what’s behind it, what can we do to help assure Iowans that they are safe and this is the right thing to do.”

Despite her unwillingness to address, or even acknowledge, the partisan divide on vaccines, Reynolds said during the news conference it is important to examine why some groups are vaccine-adverse.

“Whatever the reasons, it’s important to understand why certain groups may be hesitant, so that we can continue to do everything that we can to take a more targeted approach to providing that information and vaccination options that are more relevant for them,” she said.

The governor also extended a special invitation to residents of northwestern Iowa to attend a vaccination clinic in Sioux City on Friday, where Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg will receive his first dose of the vaccine. The governor said that in addition to Gregg, “celebrities” will be at the clinic. She did not name any of the celebrities.

Those interested in scheduling a vaccine appointment anywhere around the state, but in need of assistance to do so can now call 211 for help, the governor announced near the end of the news conference.

“The call center is ready to help anyone for any reason,” Reynolds said. “Vaccine navigators are available daily from 8 until 5 p.m.”

Assistance through 211 had previously been limited to people over 65, and those without access to a computer or smartphone.

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