Well, the pandemic certainly wasn’t going to become any less polarizing as it progressed. The same well-established, extremely tribal divisions that characterized early debates over lockdowns, mask mandates, and COVID-19’s overall risk translated seamlessly to the U.S. vaccine rollout.
These rifts, for the most part, cut cleanly across preexisting political identities — but also through families, friend groups, workplaces, and schools. Compounded with the widespread isolation of a year-and-a-half of the pandemic, this was just another added stressor for Americans on all sides of the vaccine and COVID-19 debates. There’s a strong chance that you or someone you know personally has firsthand experience with the fraught social dynamics behind the most significant pandemic decisions.
According to a recent CivicScience study, half of Americans have recently had a difficult conversation with family or friends about the coronavirus vaccine or will likely do so soon. Unvaccinated Americans who don’t plan to get the vaccine are the most likely to have no plans for a difficult conversation about the topic, but they are just slightly less likely than vaccinated Americans to claim they’ve already had a strained talk.
A smaller but striking percentage of Americans have taken more drastic action with personal vaccine disputes. Nearly one-quarter of adults surveyed by CivicScience claimed that they’ve stopped speaking with friends or family members over differences in opinion related to the pandemic and COVID-19 vaccine. An additional 19% of Americans don’t rule out the possibility.
The fissure in vaccine sentiment primarily cut across party lines, with few exceptions. Registered Democrats are nearly twice as likely as registered Republicans to stop speaking with someone related to pandemic or vaccine disagreements, and more than two-thirds of Republicans have no plans to sever ties with anyone over pandemic disagreements.
These interpersonal barriers can take a significant toll on a nation’s collective mental health. Three in 10 Americans report having at least some change in mental health due to differences in vaccination status among friends or family, with nearly 10% of adults describing a “significant” change in mental health. Vaccination status isn’t necessarily a harbinger of changes in mental health — a near-identical percentage of vaccinated adults and unvaccinated adults with no plans to get the vaccine claim they’ve had significant mental health shifts.
The pandemic has forced Americans to reckon with challenging, uncomfortable social terrain — regardless of vaccination status. Given the personal and the public health implications tied up in debates over the coronavirus vaccine and broader coronavirus prevention, you can expect these dynamics to persist at least for as long as the pandemic rages stateside.