The percentage of Americans who say they would “definitely not” get the COVID-19 vaccine has remained relatively stable since 2020. And the daily number of people getting vaccinations had slid near a low point when President Joe Biden announced sweeping vaccine mandates.
Yet, former President Donald Trump and his son Eric have been dishing out revisionist history with claims that vaccine hesitancy soared once Biden assumed office and that “people were getting the vaccine in record numbers” until Biden implemented vaccine mandates.
In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Oct. 18, Eric Trump claimed that Biden has “actually scared America about the vaccine” due to mandates.
Eric Trump, Oct. 18: I mean, my father was producing the vaccine. By the way, people were taking it in record numbers. And one of the things I think Biden has just done just terrible at by shoving things down American’s throats. He’s actually scared America about the vaccine, which hadn’t happened under my father. People were getting the vaccine in record numbers, but you see these mandates and you see them just jamming it on Americans. And you know, don’t push something on Americans, educate them, but don’t force things on Americans. Americans are not that society. They want to live a free life. It’s never worked, Sean. It’s just never worked.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker shows, the highest number of doses being administered daily occurred in April.
The number of doses administered daily rose steadily in the months after the first vaccines were delivered on Dec. 14. Although some states opened up general eligibility earlier than others, Biden on April 6 directed all states to make the vaccine available to all adults by April 19. The seven-day average for daily doses administered peaked at nearly 3.5 million on April 11. The highest one-day total, 4.5 million doses, occurred on April 1. Those are the records.
After those record highs, the number of daily vaccinations steadily declined into July, when it leveled off. The seven-day average in mid-July fell below 500,000 a day, before rising again to over 850,000 a day in late August. By early September, about 63% of Americans had received at least one dose of vaccine, and about 54% were fully vaccinated.
But people were not “taking it in record numbers” when Biden announced on Sept. 9 sweeping efforts to mandate vaccination for federal workers, large employers and health care staff. In early September, the numbers were trending down even as the highly transmissible delta variant drove COVID-19 cases higher — mostly among the unvaccinated. The seven-day average for daily doses was at just over 650,000 the day Biden announced those mandates — nowhere near the record levels in April.
“Many of us are frustrated with the nearly 80 million Americans who are still not vaccinated, even though the vaccine is safe, effective, and free,” Biden said. “We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin. And your refusal has cost all of us.”
Biden directed the Department of Labor to develop an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are vaccinated or tested at least once a week. He also issued an executive order requiring all federal employees to be vaccinated, with no exception for those who would prefer to opt out by being regularly tested.
And after previously requiring vaccination for all nursing home workers who treat patients enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, Biden expanded that requirement to everyone who works in hospitals, home health care facilities and other medical facilities.
But as we said, daily vaccination numbers had slowed long before Biden announced those mandates.
The former president, meanwhile, claimed during an Oct. 7 interview on Fox News that when he was president “everybody wanted the vaccine. There was nobody saying, ‘Oh, gee, I don’t want to take it.’ Now they say that. And that’s because they don’t trust the Biden administration. I can think of no other reason.” In fact, surveys show remarkably little variation pre- and post-Biden taking office in the percentage of people who said they definitely would not get the vaccine.
Public opinion polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation in December 2020, more than a month before Trump left office, found: “About a quarter (27%) of the public remains vaccine hesitant, saying they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists. Vaccine hesitancy is highest among Republicans (42%).”
That month, about 15% of the total population responded that they would “definitely not” get the vaccine — including 25% of Republicans. Those percentages remained fairly constant in monthly polling through September.
“We haven’t seen any sign that vaccine hesitancy has increased over time,” Liz Hamel, vice president and director of public opinion and survey research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told us in a phone interview. “It’s pretty remarkable. You rarely see something that stays that stable over time.”
Hamel cautioned that comparing December 2020 to September 2021 is not an “apples-to-apples” situation because a vaccine was not available when the December survey was done, and authorized and approved vaccines were widely available during the more recent surveys.
What has shrunk considerably over time is the percentage of people who said they wanted to “wait and see” before taking the vaccine. In December, that percentage was 39%, and it dropped to 7% in September.
Between December and September, about a quarter to a fifth of Republicans have consistently expressed resistance to getting the vaccine. And, Hamel said, those Republicans were unmoved by cash bonuses and other incentives to encourage vaccination.
KFF’s results are similar to the findings of surveys conducted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, FactCheck.org’s parent organization. In May 2020, during Trump’s presidency, 18% said they would be “not at all likely” to get a vaccine that protects people from the coronavirus if it became available. A similar percentage (18%) reported the same reluctance in APPC’s April 2021 survey, when Biden was president and the vaccine was being widely distributed.
In APPC’s most recent tracking survey, conducted in September, 12% said they would be “not at all likely” to get a COVID-19 vaccine — so if anything the contingent of vaccine-resistant people dwindled a bit.
Trump should know how entrenched this vaccine-hesitant constituency is. The former president was booed at a rally in Alabama on Aug. 21 after he recommended his supporters get the vaccine.
“I believe totally in your freedoms, I do,” Trump said. “But you got to do what you have to do, but I recommend, take the vaccines. I did it. It’s good. Take the vaccines, but you got … [some in the crowd boo]. No, that’s okay. That’s all right. You got your freedoms. But I happened to take the vaccine.”
But as we said, polling shows that same vaccine hesitancy, particularly among Republicans, existed both before and after Biden took office.
Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.