Faith-Based Outreach Is a Critical Tool for Moving Many Vaccine Hesitant Americans Toward Acceptance

 The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) today released the largest survey on religion and COVID-19 conducted to date. The survey, conducted jointly by PRRI and IFYC among more than 5,600 Americans from March 8–30, 2021, reveals a key insight that can accelerate the nation’s quest for herd immunity: Faith-based approaches can move many vaccine-hesitant communities toward acceptance. 

More than one-quarter of Americans (26%) who are hesitant to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and nearly one in ten (8%) of those who are resistant to getting a vaccine, say that at least one of six faith-based approaches supporting vaccinations would make them more likely to get vaccinated. Among those who attend religious services at least a few times per year, 44% of those who are hesitant and 14% of those who are resistant say faith-based approaches would make them more likely to get vaccinated.

“Religion is a critical but often overlooked factor both for understanding the complexities of vaccine hesitancy and for developing strategies for winning the battle to overcome COVID-19 and its future variants,” said PRRI founder and CEO Robert P. Jones. “For example, among Black Protestants, attending religious services is associated with lower levels of vaccine hesitancy, while the opposite is true among white evangelical Protestants, where clergy have been more reticent to speak out. In both settings, faith-based approaches have the potential to be very effective in improving vaccination rates among both groups.” 

Among white evangelical Protestants who regularly attend religious services and are vaccine hesitant, nearly half (47%) say that a faith-based intervention would make them more receptive — a higher proportion than among any other religious group. Additionally, 66% of white evangelical Protestants who are vaccine hesitant say they would turn to a religious leader at least a little for information about vaccines. However, white evangelical Protestants who regularly attend religious services are slightly less likely than those who do not attend to be vaccine accepters (43% vs. 48%), an indication that vaccine adoption messages may be in weak circulation among this population.

Approximately one-third of Black Protestants (36%) who are vaccine hesitant say one or more faith-based approaches would make them more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine. And seven in ten Black Protestants (70%) who are vaccine hesitant say they would look to a religious leader at least a little for information about a vaccine, Notably, the data suggests that positive messages about vaccine adoption are already in play and having a positive effect within Black church communities. Nearly six in ten (57%) Black Protestants who regularly attend services are vaccine accepters, compared to 41% among those who do not attend services. 

Religious engagement could be the key to herd immunity,” said IFYC founder and president Eboo Patel. “A significant part of the American population is telling us that one or more religious messages can move them from vaccine hesitancy, and even outright refusal, to acceptance. As we approach the long last mile, the strategy has to include ramping up collaborations between government officials, public health leaders, and trusted messengers within racially diverse religious communities working together to increase confidence in the vaccine and get shots in arms.”  

Notably, faith-based approaches have considerable reach beyond religious communities to a variety of vaccine-hesitant groups. Among the vaccine hesitant, 36% of those who agree with QAnon conspiracy theories, 33% of Hispanic Americans, 30% of those who are very worried about the safety of vaccines, 26% of Republicans, and 24% of rural Americans say faith-based approaches would improve their likelihood of getting vaccinated.

U.S. Religious Groups and Vaccine Hesitancy 

As of the end of March, more than half of Americans (58%) reported they had gotten a COVID-19 vaccine or would get vaccinated as soon as possible. On the other hand, nearly three in ten Americans (28%) report that they are hesitant to get vaccinated, and 14% will refuse to get a vaccine. 

Among these hesitant or resistant Americans, there are clear divisions by religious affiliation. Half or more of Hispanic Protestants (57%), white evangelical Protestants (54%), Black Protestants (51%), and Mormons (50%) indicate they are either vaccine hesitant or resistant. White evangelical Protestants are the most likely to be refusers (28% hesitant, 26% refusers), while Hispanic Protestants (42% hesitant, 15% refusers) are more likely to be hesitant. Additionally, nearly one in five Black Protestants (19%) and Mormons (17%) say that they will not get vaccinated, and another third of both groups are hesitant (32% and 33%, respectively). 

Jewish people are by far the most likely to be vaccine accepters, with more than eight in ten (85%) saying they have either received a vaccine or will get one as soon as possible. Majorities of white Catholics (68%), white mainline Protestants (63%), non-Christian religious Americans (64%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (60%), and Hispanic Catholics (56%) are also vaccine accepters. It is important to note, however, that, with the exception of Jewish Americans, majorities of Americans of all major religious groups report at least moderate concerns about COVID-19 vaccines, including concerns about side effects, long-term effects, and the safety of the vaccines.

Other notable findings from the PRRI-IFYC Religious Diversity and Vaccine Survey include:

  • There is a clear relationship between Americans’ vaccine hesitancy and refusal and belief in QAnon conspiracy theories. Only 5% of vaccine acceptant Americans generally agree with QAnon conspiracy theories, compared to 17% of those who are vaccine hesitant and nearly four in ten (38%) who are vaccine refusers. 
  • Beyond Fox News, the rise of far-right media outlets dramatically affects vaccine hesitancy among Republicans. Majorities of Republicans who report most trusting mainstream television news sources, such as broadcast networks, local news, or public television (58%) and Fox News (54%), are vaccine accepters. By contrast, only about three in ten of those who most trust far-right news sources, such as One America News Network (OANN) or Newsmax (32%), or who do not use television news as a source (30%), are vaccine accepters.
  • Americans with more formal education are more likely to be willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine. This educational divide on vaccine acceptance is evident across all major racial and ethnic groups: Among Black Americans (66% with a four-year degree, 40% without), Hispanic Americans (66% with a four-year degree, 49% without), and white Americans (77% with a four-year degree, 52% without). 
  • Younger Americans are more likely than older Americans to be hesitant or say they will not get a COVID-19 vaccine. Among those ages 65 and over, 79% are vaccine accepters. Comparatively, Americans ages 30–49 and 18–29 are less likely to be vaccine accepters, with one-third of each group hesitant (35% and 33%, respectively). 
  • Women are significantly more likely than men to express concerns with COVID-19 vaccines, with two-thirds of women (67%) expressing at least moderate concerns, including 28% who express major concerns. Men (61%) are more likely than women (54%) to have gotten a dose of a vaccine or to say that they will get vaccinated as soon as possible. 

The full report, “Faith-Based Approaches Can Positively Impact COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts:

Religious Identities and the Race Against the Virus,” is available on the PRRI and IFYC websites. 



The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI and IFYC among a random sample of 5,149 adults (ages 18 and over) living in all 50 states in the United States and who are part of Ipsos’s Knowledge Panel, and an additional 476 who were recruited by Ipsos using opt-in survey panels to increase the sample sizes in smaller states. The full sample is weighted to be representative of the U.S. population. Interviews were conducted online between March 8 and 30, 2021. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 1.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.4. 

About IFYC

IFYC is a national nonprofit that equips the next generation of students and professionals with the knowledge and skills needed for leadership in a religiously diverse world.

About PRRI

PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy. 

Media Contact:

Megan O’Leary

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