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Weeks after your second COVID-19 vaccination, you walk into your favorite restaurant for the first time in over a year, masked and ready to enjoy your outing. You sit down at a table, order your favorite food and drink, and prepare to ditch your mask and return to something as usual.
But you can’t help but notice that some of the other guests walk in without a mask, possibly seated by an uncomfortable but accommodating host, who is properly masked. You can’t help but wonder: Are these people vaccinated?
Probably not, according to a recent poll.
The April University of Texas / Texas Tribune poll found Texas voters are increasingly returning to normal life after a year of living under the tyranny of the coronavirus pandemic. The changes in Texans’ behaviors are likely the result of diminishing concerns about COVID-19, which has slowly subsided amid universal vaccine eligibility for adults and a growing number of vaccinations.
But the increase in “normal” behavior has been most pronounced among Texans who hesitate or resist getting the vaccine, and those who say they intend to be vaccinated but have not yet done so. This latter group has shrunk with each passing month.
Thursday’s announcement by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that “Anyone fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities – large or small – without wearing a mask or physically distancing” will result in much more people without masks in indoor public spaces.
Polls suggest that with an increasing number of people vaccinated without a mask, there will be many more who will be unmasked but not vaccinated – posing a public health risk to themselves and to other unvaccinated people. with which they come into contact.
Unvaccinated adults are the most likely to be hospitalized due to COVID-19, 99.75% of patients, according to a recent Cleveland Clinic study. And even after the CDC’s announcement, some medical professionals were quick to remind anyone listening that people may have good reason to continue wearing masks.
In April, 33% of Texans reported living normally, coming and going from home as usual, up from 24% in March and 24 percentage points higher than our first measurement recorded in April of last year. Among Texans who reported living normally, the share who had ever received a vaccine has only increased by 6 percentage points since March, from 15% to 21%, making this group the most cautious, despite being protected against COVID -19. Among Texans who express hesitation or refusal to be vaccinated, the proportion of people living normally increased by 13 percentage points, from 38% to 51%. And among those who say they intend to get the vaccine as soon as possible but have not yet done so, the proportion of people living normally has increased by 18 percentage points, from 12% to 30%.
The partisan impulses cultivated and inflamed throughout the pandemic are clearly evident at this intersection of vaccine reluctance and reported behavior. Vaccination-hesitant Republicans make up a near majority of all normally living Texas voters – 45%. Another 28% of Texans who say they live normally are vaccinated Republicans – meaning that nearly 3 in 4 “living normally” voters are Republicans, with more not having received a vaccine.
This link between reluctance (or rejection) of vaccination and COVID non-compliance behavior is also evident in beliefs about the safety of social activities. Texans who are hesitant about vaccinations as a group are much more likely to consider social activities safer than those who have been or plan to be vaccinated.
Asked if it would be safe to participate in each of the 14 routine activities ranging from work, staying in a hotel and flying on a plane, to attending an event in an indoor arena, cinema or restaurant, Texans who hesitate to be vaccinated find these activities safer, on average, than those who do not hesitate. Of those who expressed hesitation, 72%, on average, rated each activity as safe. Among hesitant Republicans, that average is 86%. By comparison, on average, only about half of vaccinated and vaccine-seeking Texans rated these public activities as safe.
Those same vaccine-hesitant Texans are also more likely to be among those who reject social distancing measures that have kept the virus at bay before the vaccines were distributed. Only 1 in 5 Texans now state that they do not wear a mask when leaving their home; 70% of this group are reluctant to vaccinate, with a majority, 53%, being reluctant Republicans. One in four Texans say they don’t avoid large groups in public; 60% of them are reluctant to vaccinate.
So while vaccines provide Texas, the country, and the world with a spot of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, it seems our return to normal has – so far – been largely driven by what economists call free. runners, Texans who benefit from the distribution of vaccines to others, even if they hesitate or even do not want to be vaccinated.
Even as the CDC relaxes masking and social distancing advice for public places, hesitant attitudes about vaccines and the behaviors associated with them pose a continuing threat to public health even as global concern about the pandemic recedes. .
This ride isn’t that free after all.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and sponsors. Donors play no role in the Tribune ‘journalism. Find a full list here.