Tanya Garcia plans to get her coronavirus vaccine as soon as she is eligible — regardless of what her husband says.
Garcia, a 24-year-old in Buckeye, Ariz., has been hearing firsthand horror stories about the coronavirus since March last year, when her older sister, a nurse, started caring for patients at the hospital. Garcia heard about the patients who died alone and the families who watched them pass away on Zoom. Then the virus came closer: In October, Garcia tested positive, along with her younger sister, her mother and her newborn daughter.
Now most of Garcia’s family has been vaccinated. Her husband is the exception, she said: He doesn’t plan to get the vaccine.
His reasons are part religious, part political: Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, her husband, who declined a request to be interviewed, was taught by his family to doubt much of modern medicine, Garcia said. And while he doesn’t vote in elections, he leans conservative, Garcia added, especially after seven years in the Marines, surrounded by “a bunch of Republican men.”
“Usually I can talk to him, make him understand things,” said Garcia, who identifies as a Democrat. But on this issue, she said, he will not be moved.
Politically conservative men have been skeptical of the coronavirus from the beginning. Now that the vaccine is becoming more widely available, a striking number are deciding not to get the shot: According to a recent NPR-PBS NewsHour-Marist poll, 49 percent of Republican men do not plan to get vaccinated, a higher percentage than any other demographic group in the United States. Though former president Donald Trump received his coronavirus vaccine before he left office, he did not encourage his supporters to get the vaccine until mid-March.
Long before Trump voiced his support for the vaccine, many women had begun to mount their own campaigns to vaccinate the conservative men in their lives. Wives and girlfriends, daughters and sisters: They plan to get the vaccine themselves — and will do whatever they can to convince the reluctant men in their family to come along. Some are threatening to withhold family visits; others are opting for bribes. They’re not sure if any of it will work.
No vaccine has ever been as politicized as this one, said Geeta Swamy, an obstetrician-gynecologist and associate vice president for research at the Duke University School of Medicine, with Republicans far less likely to sign up than Democrats. Many people who identify as Republicans have long resisted the measures designed to contain the virus — masks, social distancing, economic shutdowns — egged on by Trump, who downplayed the health risks of the pandemic. According to the same study, 40 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2020 — both men and women — do not plan to get the vaccine.
Because women are more likely than men to vote Democratic and are generally more comfortable with government intervention, it’s not surprising more women plan to get the vaccine, said Melissa Deckman, a politics professor at Washington College who specializes in gender. But the division goes deeper than party. According to the same study, only 34 percent of Republican women do not plan to get vaccinated, a significantly smaller percentage than Republican men.
Regardless of party, women tend to be “decision-makers” on health-related issues, said Swamy, taking the lead on doctor appointments and other medical needs for themselves and their families.
“Women are the ones choosing the doctors, finding out from other friends who is the best pediatrician in town,” she said. “They are more familiar and more comfortable with the idea of vaccines than men are.”
Conservative men may not see the vaccine as “manly,” Deckman said. Many have shirked from wearing masks and social distancing in part because those measures did not fit a narrative of men as “superhuman and invincible,” she said. If a man views his masculinity as central to his identity, Deckman said, studies show he will be less likely to wear a mask. It would not be surprising, she added, if future studies show a similar pattern on vaccinations.
“There is this idea among many men, especially Republican men, that they need to be strong,” she said. Trump perpetuated this sentiment, she added, appealing to working-class men who were struggling to provide for their families. “They feel like they can take care of themselves, thank you very much.”
Montgomery Granger, a veteran and school administrator in Long Island who has written about his time in the military, had no intention of getting the vaccine. The pandemic seems overblown, he said: In his opinion, the death toll included many with preexisting conditions who would have died of other causes. Granger tested positive for coronavirus earlier this year, he said, but it wasn’t serious. It felt like a bad head cold.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, in particular, seem “untested,” he said, relying on new scientific technologies that appear to have been rushed through the approval process. (Both vaccines were subjected to rigorous safety testing by the FDA and are widely supported by medical experts.) Granger, who voted for Trump twice, did not want to be the “guinea pig.”
But then his wife started trying to convince him.
If Granger didn’t get the vaccine, Granger’s wife, who also voted for Trump, worried the family would be limited in where they could go on vacation, Granger said. Granger’s family usually travels to Disney World every year, he said, and she thought the park might require proof of vaccination. Granger’s wife was also worried about her elderly father, who still hadn’t received his vaccine. If Granger wasn’t vaccinated, he recalls her saying, he might put her dad at risk.
Ultimately, Granger agreed to get vaccinated. “We’ve been together since August 10, 1985,” he said. “We’ve built up enough trust. We know each other well enough to be able to tell when something is really important to the other.”
Other women have not had the same success. When Staci Salazar’s father, a Republican, posted on Facebook, urging people not to get the vaccine, she decided to respond.
“I fully believe in science and medicine,” she wrote. “I care about my family and want to protect my granddaughter, your great-granddaughter, from covid.” Salazar’s granddaughter has been diagnosed with leukemia.
Salazar hasn’t seen her father in months, even though they live 10 minutes apart in their neighborhood in Dallas. When she drove by on his birthday to deliver a banana split, his favorite dessert, she stayed outside, knowing he doesn’t take mask or social distancing precautions seriously.
Salazar’s father, who declined to be interviewed, often posts articles, screenshots or images from far-right websites, Salazar said. It’s impossible to combat the steady stream of misinformation, she added, especially anything related to the vaccine.
“I push him every time I can,” she said, engaging in long text message conversations with her father. So far, nothing has worked.
“I don’t know where my dad has gone.”
In the Bay Area, Carrie Sinn has also been trying to coax her dad out of an “echo chamber,” she said. When her father refused to get the vaccine, her mother called to ask for help. Both of Sinn’s parents are Trump supporters, she said — but her mother has always taken the coronavirus seriously. Sinn’s mother, who has several preexisting conditions, has long recognized that “covid would be very dangerous for her,” Sinn said. She signed up for the vaccine as soon as it became available. But her husband, Sinn’s father, won’t budge.
Usually Sinn’s parents agree on everything, Sinn said. “This is the one thing where I’m seeing a divide between him and her.”
Sinn has been gearing up for an extended conversation with her dad. She plans to deploy what she sees as her most powerful weapon: If you don’t get your vaccine, she will tell him, you won’t see your grandchildren. Her two kids, ages 18 and 16, have their own preexisting conditions.
“I’m thinking I’ll go with shameless guilt,” she said. “The kids are going to flat out refuse to go anywhere unless everyone is vaccinated.”
For conservative men skeptical of the coronavirus, the vaccine will be a tough sell, said Mary-Kate Lizotte, a politics professor at Augusta University in Georgia who studies gender and public opinion. Family members can be convincing on political issues, she said, if the issue is “new,” a topic to which they have not given much thought. Coronavirus has dominated headlines for over a year now. The vaccine has been widely covered for many months. People know where they fall, Lizotte said.
In Buckeye, Garcia has decided to stop talking to her husband about the vaccine. It’s “like talking to a brick wall,” she said.
“He knows where I stand. I know where he stands.”
And while she wishes he would change his mind, she said, she recognizes that she can’t control him. She can only make health decisions for herself and for their baby.
Garcia should be eligible any day now, she said. She can’t wait.