Only 10% of Americans believe that getting a COVID-19 vaccine conflicts with their religious beliefs, and 59% of Americans say too many people are using religious beliefs as an excuse not to get vaccinated, a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) shows.
A majority of Americans, 60%, also say there is no valid religious reason to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine – but the number changes when it comes to white evangelicals. While a majority of every other major religious group says their faith doesn't include a valid reason to refuse the vaccine, just 41% of white evangelicals believe the same.
The findings in the survey – the largest one to track the intersection of the pandemic and religious beliefs — could be crucial to understanding how to encourage more people in the U.S. to be vaccinated, especially as vaccines become more available to children. PRRI CEO and founder Robert Jones says in a statement that the results show that many Americans believe religious liberty is not an "absolute" and that there should be a balance when it comes to the health of communities.
There is still a divide over religious exemptions from the vaccine
Whether religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine should be allowed resulted in a more divided array of answers. Just 39% of Americans support a blanket religious exemption excuse, meaning that anyone who says the vaccine is against their faith doesn't have to get it.
But 51% of Americans are in favor of granting a religious exemption if the person has documentation from a faith leader saying that the vaccine goes against their religious beliefs.
Interestingly, if the question was posed in the context of the government mandating vaccinations, 58% of Americans say people should be allowed to have religious exemptions from the vaccine.
Faith leaders prove to be effective in encouraging vaccinations
The survey also shows that it is quite effective when religious leaders speak up about vaccines. More than 50% of those who said they attend religious services regularly also said that a faith-based approach encouraged them to get vaccinated.
"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," IFYC president and founder Eboo Patel said.
"So many people in diverse religious communities believe that our bodies were created by god and we need to cherish and protect those, and that we have an obligation to the common good," Patel told Megan Myscofski of Arizona Public Media.
A faith-based approach could also be an effective way to get more children vaccinated.
There is some evidence that faith-based approaches could encourage parents to get their children vaccinated. Just 16% of parents overall who are vaccine-hesitant or who refuse to get their kids vaccinated say they would be influenced by a faith-based approach — and that number jumps up to 29% for parents who are Christians of color.