Several Republican governors with lagging vaccine rates in their states have urged residents to accept the shots as the Biden administration comes under pressure to reopen US borders to overseas visitors.
The Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, West Virginia’s Jim Justice and Spencer Cox of Utah warned against vaccine hesitancy, which some disease experts, including the White House chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, said could create “two types of America”.
“We are in a race,” Hutchinson said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. About 32% of people in Arkansas are fully vaccinated, compared with 47.9% nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. “If we stopped right here, and we didn’t get a greater per cent of our population vaccinated, then we’re going to have trouble in the next school year and over the winter.” The solution, he said, “is the vaccinations”.
In a Fourth of July address on Sunday, Joe Biden called vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do”, saying the US had moved into a new phase of virus response. But he also warned that while the country is “closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus”, the effort was not complete. “We’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said.
Justice told ABC’s This Week: “Red states probably have a lot of people that are very, very conservative in their thinking and they think, ‘Well, I don’t have to do that.’ But they’re not thinking right.”
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West Virginia, which has been offering vaccine incentives from college scholarships to free hunting and fishing licenses, has a similar rate of vaccination to Arkansas.
“When it really boils right down to it, they’re in a lottery to themselves,” Justice said. “We have a lottery that says if you’re vaccinated, we’re going to give you stuff. Well, you’ve got another lottery for them, and it’s a death lottery.”
Cox called Utah’s low vaccination rates “troubling”, and placed blame on the state’s youthful population. He told CBS’s Face the Nation “hopefully reason will rule”.
Cox’s delicacy in urging his state’s residents to accept vaccination comes as a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 74% of people who have not been vaccinated said they probably or definitely would not get the shots.
The divide corresponds to political affiliation, the survey found, with 86% of Democrats and only 45% of Republicans having received at least one vaccine shot. Six per cent of Democrats and 47% of Republicans said they were unlikely to get the shot.
Asked about whether he is concerned the Delta variant of coronavirus could cause outbreaks in the US, Fauci said: “I don’t think you’re going to be seeing anything nationwide. Because fortunately, we have a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated. So it’s going to be regional. … We’re going to see, and I’ve said, almost two types of America.”
Persistent resistance to vaccination in red states led Fauci to warn on Sunday that fully vaccinated Americans should “go the extra step” and wear masks when traveling to parts of the country with low rates.
“If you put yourself in an environment in which you have a high level of viral dynamics and a very low level of vaccine, you might want to go the extra step … even though the vaccines themselves are highly effective,” Fauci told NBC’s Meet the Press.
Fauci added that the situation was lamentable: “When you talk about the avoidability of hospitalization and death, it’s really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable.”
The warnings came as the administration’s Covid response coordinator, Jeff Zients, acknowledged that it had narrowly missed its goal of 70% of adults having at least one shot by the Fourth of July.
“I think we’re much further along than anyone would have anticipated at this point, with two out of three adult Americans with at least one shot,” Zients told CNN, noting that 90% of those age 65 and older had received at least one shot.
The situation comes as the administration comes under increasing pressure to lift international travel restrictions that have been in place since March 2020.
Steve Shur, president of the trade group Travel Technology Association, told the Hill on Monday that the administration’s travel bans were “frozen in time.”
With exceptions for citizens, green-card holders, students and some family members, US entry bans remain in place for travelers from China, Iran, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, India and South Africa.
“We believe it’s possible now, at least for countries of low risk, to start to reopen international travel” to the US, Shur told the outlet.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, came under pressure late last month from European heads to reciprocate the EU’s recent reopening of borders to vaccinated travelers from the US.
“I can’t put a date on it,” Blinken said at a press conference in Paris on 25 June. “I can tell you we’re working very actively on this right now, and we are – like France, like our other partners in Europe – both anxious and looking forward to restoring travel. But we have to be guided by the science. We have to be guided by medical expertise.”