As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads across the United States, heightening tensions around vaccine mandates and religious exemption claims, the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) today released Wave 3 of their Religion and the Vaccine Survey, expanding on findings from June 2021 and March 2021. The PRRI–IFYC surveys remain the largest studies on religion and COVID-19 to date, unveiling new insights on COVID-19 vaccination mandates, religious exemptions, and trends in vaccine hesitancy and acceptance.
Sharp Divisions on Religious Exemption Claims for Vaccine Mandates
The new survey reveals that only one in ten Americans (10%) believe the teachings of their religion prohibit COVID-19 vaccinations; nearly nine in ten (88%) disagree. Among unvaccinated Americans, this belief rises to 28%.
Six in ten Americans (59%) agree that too many people are using religion as an excuse to avoid vaccine requirements. Similarly, six in ten Americans (60%) believe that there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine. Majorities of every major religious group agree, with the sole exception of white evangelical Protestants (41%).
At the same time, three in ten unvaccinated Americans (31%) say they have asked for or plan to ask for a religious exemption to vaccination, and one in five parents of unvaccinated children under age 18 (20%) say they have requested or will request a religious exemption for their children. Among the unvaccinated, white evangelicals stand out, with about four in ten saying they plan to ask for a religious exemption to vaccination requirements (41% for themselves and 42% for their unvaccinated children).
“The wide berth allowed for the expression and practice of religions, codified in our Constitution and laws, are bedrock American principles,” said PRRI CEO and founder Robert P. Jones. “But Americans also believe that principles of religious liberty are not absolute but rather should be balanced with the health and well-being of our communities.”
“This survey also shows that religious interventions have worked,” said IFYC president and founder Eboo Patel. “When pastors encourage vaccination and mosques hold vaccine clinics, more people get vaccinated. Faith-based groups remain ready to play our role, but we need partners. If we are going to defeat the Omicron variant, philanthropy, the private sector, and government will have to step up.”
Americans Distinguish Between Different Kinds of Religious Exemption Claims
Support for religious exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination requirements varies by context. Only four in ten Americans (39%) support a blanket religious exemption approach, in which anyone who claims that a COVID-19 vaccination goes against their religious beliefs should be granted an exemption. White evangelical Protestants (61%) are the only major religious group with majority support for granting religious exemptions to vaccines to anyone who claims one.
A slim majority of Americans (51%) favor granting a religious exemption if a person has a document from a religious leader certifying that receiving a COVID-19 vaccination goes against their religious beliefs.
Stronger majorities favor granting religious exemptions if the person has a verified history of refusing other vaccines on religious grounds (55%), or if the person belongs to a religious group with a record of refusing other vaccines on religious grounds (57%). Belonging to a religious group with a record of refusing other vaccines is the only criteria for granting a religious exemption that finds majority agreement across all major religious groups.
When the government is mandating vaccinations, nearly six in ten (58%) say exemptions for sincere religious beliefs should be granted. Majorities of most Christian groups say that the government should allow people to opt out of vaccinations if they sincerely believe they violate the teachings of their religion, including more than eight in ten white evangelical Protestants (82%).
Americans are less supportive of allowing religious COVID-19 exemptions for children who would otherwise be required to get them (44% favor, 54% oppose).
8 in 10 Americans Are Now Vaccine Accepters
As of the beginning of November, nearly eight in ten Americans are vaccine accepters (77%), including three in four Americans (74%) who report having received at least one dose of a vaccine, a marked 20 percentage point increase compared to March 2021. Only 9% of Americans remain hesitant, a dramatic decline from 28% in March. The proportion of vaccine refusers in America has remained steady: 13% in November, compared to 13% in June and 14% in March.
There is evidence that faith-based approaches to addressing vaccine hesitancy have been successful. Notably, among those who are already vaccinated and attend religious services at least a few times a year, more than one in four (27%) report that faith-based approaches made them more likely to get vaccinated. Nearly half of vaccinated Latter-day Saints (46%) and a majority of those who attend religious services regularly (54%) say that one or more faith-based approaches encouraged them to get vaccinated. Four in ten Black Protestants who attend religious services (39%) report the same.
As with vaccination for adults, acceptance of vaccinations for children is increasing over time. About four in ten Americans with children under age 18 (42%) are vaccine acceptant for their children, up from 35% in June. Patterns in acceptance for children mirror the same patterns across demographic groups for self-reported vaccination status. Notably, however, seven in ten parents report major (37%) or moderate (31%) concerns about COVID-19 vaccines for children.
There is some evidence that faith-based approaches could encourage parents to get their children vaccinated—16% of parents who are hesitant or refuse to get their children vaccinated say one or more scenarios could move them toward vaccination. That figure jumps to 29% among parents who are Christians of color.
Anger Abounds Among Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Alike
As it becomes clearer that the minority of unvaccinated Americans remain unpersuaded, patience has grown thin among the three-quarters of Americans (74%) who are vaccinated. Two-thirds of vaccinated Americans (67%) agree that they are “angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and are putting the rest of us at risk.” Vaccinated Democrats (84%) are twice as likely as vaccinated Republicans (43%) to say they are angry at those who refuse to get vaccinated.
On the other hand, among the one-quarter of Americans who remain unvaccinated (26%), 71% report that they are “angry at those who think they have a right to tell me to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” with unvaccinated Republicans (85%) significantly more likely than unvaccinated Democrats (48%) to agree. These frustrations have boiled over into family conflict, with one in five Americans (19%) saying that disagreements over vaccinations have caused major conflict in their family, an experience generally consistent across political affiliation, religious affiliation, race, education, age, and gender. Notably, Latino Americans (11%) are twice as likely as Black (5%) and white (5%) Americans to completely agree that vaccinations have caused major conflicts in their families.
Other key findings in the PRRI–IFYC report include:
● Four in ten Americans (42%) agree that “the government is not telling us about other treatments for COVID-19 that are just as effective as the vaccine.” Republicans (62%) are more than twice as likely as Democrats (23%) to believe this conspiracy theory. White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group among whom a majority (62%) believe this conspiracy theory.
● Less than half of Americans (45%) believe that no one should be allowed to claim an exemption from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine based on their religious beliefs.
● One in four Americans who are not vaccinated (26%) say a critical reason they have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine is their belief that the seriousness of COVID-19 has been overblown, and an additional 39% say that is one of the reasons but not a critical one.
● Vaccinated women (70%) are slightly more likely than vaccinated men (64%) to say they are angry at those who are refusing to get vaccinated. Among the unvaccinated, there are no gender differences in the proportion who say they are angry at those who think they have the right to tell them to get vaccinated against COVID-19 (70% for both).
● One in five vaccinated Americans (19%), including 26% of Black Americans, cite the fact that they were easily able to get to a vaccine site nearby as a critical reason for getting vaccinated.
● Four in ten vaccinated Americans (41%) cite wanting to protect those who cannot get vaccinated as a critical reason for their decision to get a vaccine.
The survey was designed and conducted by PRRI and IFYC among a random sample of 5,366 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 355 people who were recruited by Ipsos using opt-in survey panels to increase sample sizes in smaller states. Interviews were conducted online between October 18 and November 9, 2021. The margin of error for the national survey is +/- 1.7 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence, including the design effect for the survey of 1.7. The survey was made possible by generous support from the John Templeton Foundation.
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.
PRRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.