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December 13, 2021

Charted: How Americans feel about religious exemptions for Covid-19 vaccines

Daily Briefing

    Roughly 1 in 10 Americans say getting vaccinated against Covid-19 is prohibited by their religious beliefs—even as 59% say too many people use religious beliefs as an excuse to not get vaccinated, according to a recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).

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    Poll details

    Between Oct. 18 and Nov. 9, researchers surveyed 5,366 adults in all 50 states who are part of Ipsos's Knowledge Panel, as well as an additional 355 adults recruited by Ipsos to increase sample sizes in smaller states. Overall, the poll found that about 77% of Americans are "vaccine accepters"—including 74% of those who disclosed receiving at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose—while 9% say they remain vaccine hesitant, and 13% say they are "vaccine refusers."

    According to the poll, relatively few Americans said getting vaccinated against Covid-19 conflicted with their personally held religious beliefs (13%) or violated the teachings of their religion (10%). However, more than half of those who refuse to get vaccinated say doing so would go against their personally held religious beliefs, and a third said the teachings of their religion prohibit it.

    The poll also found that—when asked specifically about government vaccine mandates—more than half of Americans believe that if a person has sincerely held religious beliefs, the government should allow them to opt out of getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

    However, 60% of respondents said they agreed with the statement that "there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a Covid-19 vaccine," and 59% said that "too many people are using religion as an excuse to avoid Covid-19 vaccination requirements," according to the poll.

    In addition, while 39% of respondents said anyone who states that receiving a Covid-19 vaccine goes against their religious beliefs should be granted a religious exemption, 45% said no one should be allowed to claim an exemption from getting a Covid-19 vaccine based on their religious beliefs.

    The poll also found that a quarter of respondents who are vaccine-hesitant said one or more faith-based approaches would make them more likely to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, including just under a third of the vaccine-hesitant who regularly attend religious services.

    According to the poll, 13% of vaccine-hesitant respondents said having a health care professional from a local religious community they trust address their concerns about vaccines would make them at least somewhat more likely to get vaccinated.


    PRRI CEO Robert Jones noted that while "[t]he wide berth allowed for the expression and practice of religions, codified in our Constitution and laws, are bedrock American principles," the poll shows that "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."

    IFYC President and Founder Eboo Patel added that the survey "shows that religious interventions have worked."

    "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," Patel said. "If we are going to defeat the omicron variant, philanthropy, the private sector, and government will have to step up." (PRRI release, 12/9; PRRI/IFYC poll, 12/9; Shivaram, NPR, 12/9)

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