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The CDC’s New Mask Guidance May Be Motivating People to Get Vaccinated—But Not for the Reason You Might Think

2 minute read

As demand for vaccinations drops in the U.S., states are turning to increasingly dramatic measures—Dinner with the governor! Multi-million-dollar lotteries!—to convince people to get their shots. But perhaps the boldest incentive yet has come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which said on May 13 that fully vaccinated people can go maskless, inside and out. The CDC is essentially dangling a carrot: if you get your shot, you can have your regular life back.

Lots of experts have questioned whether that strategy will work, and some argue it will backfire. After all, the policy is almost impossible to enforce. There’s little to stop unvaccinated people from going mask-free right alongside those who have had their shots, which could allow the virus to keep spreading. That’s a particular risk in indoor environments, like stores and offices.

But a new TIME/Harris Poll survey, conducted May 18-19 among 1,075 U.S. adults ages 18 and older, offers a slightly more optimistic view of the CDC’s gamble. The agency’s policy, Harris found, is motivating some Americans who are getting vaccinated—but not necessarily for the reason you’d think.

Among respondents who were either vaccinated in the seven days ahead of Harris’ research or who said they planned to get vaccinated in the near future, 23% said that the CDC’s new mask policy encouraged them to get a shot. That’s a positive, if not massive, effect. But the data also reveal an arguably more interesting finding: among the same group, 41% said they got or plan to get vaccinated at least in part because they’re worried about being around maskless unvaccinated people.

The CDC’s new policy probably isn’t the only driver of that feeling—more people are going maskless as case counts drop and states reopen regardless—but it likely played a role. Whether that was the agency’s intended result or not, it does seem that its mask policy is affecting people’s vaccination decisions.

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com