As public health experts fret over a stalling COVID-19 vaccine campaign in the U.S., a new survey suggests they don’t have to worry about American Jews.
Jews have the lowest levels of vaccine “hesitancy” of any religious group in the country, according to a report released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, with 85% vaccinated or planning to get the shot — compared to 71% of all Americans.
The willingness of most Jews to get vaccinated against the deadly virus has remained remarkably consistent since it became widely available earlier this spring. While every other religious group polled by PRRI saw at least a 10% increase in the number of vaccine “accepters” since March, the share of Jews willing to be inoculated has not budged over the last four months.
“It is an indication that there is a ceiling,” said Natalie Jackson, director of research at PRRI. “Eight-five percent may be the top of what we can get with asking people to voluntarily get these vaccinations.”
The only change among American Jews between March and June, when the survey was conducted, has been among the 15% of Jews not interested in the vaccine, with the share who say they will refuse to get the vaccine even if it is required increasing from 5% to 7%.
Some Jews, including some in the Orthodox community, fear receiving the vaccine because of unsubstantiated rumors that they cause infertility.
“Fears about the vaccine and fertility have caught on in the Orthodox community like wildfire,” Dr. Bat-Sheva Lerner Maslow told the New York Times in June.
But many Jewish leaders have been staunch advocates for vaccination, and used their actual and virtual pulpits to encourage followers to get the shot.
Rabbi Micah Peltz, who wrote an op-ed in January calling the COVID-19 vaccine “a Jewish imperative,” said he was heartened by the PRRI data.
“It’s what I hoped,” said Peltz, who leads Temple Beth Sholom in southern New Jersey.
There has been significant growth in vaccine acceptance among certain faith communities between March and June, including Hispanic Catholics — 80% were willing to be vaccinated in June, compared to 56% three months earlier — and Black Protestants, with 66% open to the vaccine in June, a 49% increase from June.
Jackson said this showed that many of the people who said they were waiting for more information before getting vaccinated were sincere and that outreach by religious leaders can make a significant difference.
“If a religious organization puts on an informational forum and says, ‘We trust these people to come tell you the truth about these vaccines,’ that says something,” Jackson said. “That’s a bigger source of trust than seeing an ad on television.”
Peltz said he was vaccinated in January as part of an effort by a local hospital system to provide the shots to clergy with the hope that it would make others in the community more comfortable with the shots. He said most of the 800 families at Temple Beth Sholom were eager to be vaccinated and that the synagogue is planning to require proof of vaccination to attend high holiday services in September, both for safety reasons and as a statement of values.
“It sends a really important message,” Peltz said. “If we take vaccination as a mitzvah, which I do, then we should be clear about that.”
The White House fell just short of a target of vaccinating at least 70% of U.S. adults by July 4, which epidemiologists believe would help create herd immunity and stop the spread of COVID-19. The disease had ebbed but spiked in recent weeks, especially in parts of the country with lower vaccination rates, in large part because of the emergence of the highly infectious delta variant.
The PRRI study, which was published Tuesday, polled 5,851 people, including 142 Jews. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.65 percentage points for the entire survey. Jackson said PRRI did not take into account variables beyond religion, like political affiliation or level of education, that might account for the high rate of vaccination among Jews.