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Survey: ‘Faith-Based Approaches’ Could Help Convince Millions of Americans to Get COVID-19 Vaccines

4 minute read

A new survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core found that COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy remains prevalent in some American communities—but a faith-based approach could prove crucial in the fight to combat it.

The survey sampled over 5,600 adults across the U.S. between March 8 and 30. It found that among Americans who attend some type of religious service at least a few times a year, 44% of people “hesitant” about COVID-19 vaccines said that a faith-based approach—or approaches—could impact their eventual decision to get vaccinated, and 14% of people “resistant” to the vaccine said the same. (Across all people surveyed, regardless of religious affiliation, 26% of “hesitant” Americans and 8% of “resistant” Americans said that faith-based vaccination campaigns and public health drives would make them more likely to get the shot.)

The results suggest faith-based approaches could potentially help sway millions of Americans into getting vaccinated.

The approaches that the surveyed people were asked to consider included a respondent’s religious leader or fellow religious community member receiving the vaccine, a religious leader encouraging the community to get vaccinated, a religious community holding an informational forum on the vaccine, a nearby congregation serving as vaccination site or their religious community providing help to arrange vaccine appointments.

As of Monday, all adults in America are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Over 128 million initial doses and 87.6 million complete doses have been administrated in the U.S. so far. Still, the pace of vaccination is varying demographically.

The U.S. has reached a transition point, argues Robert P. Jones, CEO and founder of PRRI, where communities need to implement flexible and personalized strategies to convince people to get the potentially life-saving shots. “We’re going to need every tool in the toolbox, I think, to get us to herd immunity,” he continues. “And what we’re showing is that [faith-based approaches] can really be a key part of the solution, I think particularly for some of these communities that have been very hesitant but have close ties to religion.”

Some faith leaders have already launched pro-vaccination campaigns within their communities, and PRRI’s results suggest those campaigns might well be working, says Jones. While PRRI found that 32% of Black Protestants said they were hesitant to get the vaccine, and 19% said they wouldn’t get it at all, the survey also found that attending religious service was positively correlated with vaccine acceptance in the community. Fifty seven percent of Black Protestants who attended church services at least a few times per year said they’d take the vaccine, while only 41% of Black Protestants who don’t attend services said the same.

Read more: How One South Carolina Pastor Is Combating Vaccine Hesitancy in Communities of Color

PRRI’s survey found the opposite was occurring among white evangelical Protestants, though to a smaller degree: 43% of white evangelical Protestants who regularly attended services said they’d take the vaccine, compared with 48% of those who attended church services less frequently. But the survey also found that a pro-vaccination campaign could have a huge impact in the community. Among white evangelical Protestants who attend services at least a few times a year and are hesitant to take the vaccine, 47% said a faith-based approach would make them more likely to get vaccinated.

“So there’s actually a great amount of untapped potential among white evangelical churches here for… faith based interventions,” says Jones, “even though we’re not seeing it quite happening right now.”

Pro-vaccination campaigns could also prove impactful in other communities, the survey found. Thirty three percent of Hispanic Americans who said they were hesitant to take the vaccine said a faith-based approach would make them more likely to get the shot, as did 26% of Republicans and 24% of rural Americans.

“To overcome hesitancy you really do need [all kinds] of cultural resource,” Jones adds. “And religion is, I think, an often overlooked resource in this space, but one that we show can play a pretty critical role.”

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Write to Madeleine Carlisle at madeleine.carlisle@time.com