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GOP governors implored their residents on Sunday to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as polling shows that vaccine hesitancy has been driven by Republicans and as the virus's new, more contagious delta variant has caused recent upticks in covid-19 cases in areas with low vaccination rates.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, R, on Sunday expressed concern about possible "trouble" ahead for Arkansans if the state did not accelerate its vaccination rate. In Arkansas, about 53 percent of adults have at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with about two-thirds of adults nationally. The state has seen a recent spike in covid cases and hospitalizations, driven mostly by the delta variant.
"The solution is the vaccinations," Hutchinson said on CNN's "State of the Union," adding that while many of the state's senior citizens have gotten vaccinated, the delta variant was now hitting Arkansas' younger, unvaccinated adults. "It is a great concern."
Hutchinson avoided saying whether he would reimpose mask mandates if the state's numbers did not improve, and also stopped short of saying Arkansas was about to experience a third wave of covid cases and deaths. However, he emphasized that the state would continue to make vaccines accessible - including, for example, offering free shots at the state's July Fourth "Pops on the River" celebration on Sunday.
"We are in a race," Hutchinson said. "And if we stopped right here, and we didn't get greater percent of our population vaccinated, then we're going to have trouble in the next school year and over the winter. So, we want to get ahead of that curve. Working very hard to do that."
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed 74 percent of people who haven't been vaccinated say they probably or definitely won't get vaccinated - and that the divide fell sharply along party lines. According to the survey, 86 percent of Democrats have received at least one vaccine shot compared with 45 percent of Republicans. Only 6 percent of Democrats said they are not likely to get vaccinated, compared with 47 percent of Republicans, including 38 percent of Republicans overall who said they definitely will not get the vaccine.
Hutchinson alluded to some of that partisan divide Sunday when asked about why it had been so difficult to increase Arkansas' vaccination rate.
"Well, in a rural state, in a conservative state, there is hesitancy. And you're trying to overcome that," Hutchinson said. "We got the early vaccinations out because people were anxious. They were in a very vulnerable population. Our cases went down dramatically. And that slowed the vaccination rate. The urgency diminished. And now it's picking up again."
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, R, had blunter words Sunday when asked about vaccine hesitancy, particularly among young people, despite the incentives states are offering that include lottery prizes and college scholarships.
"The red states probably have a lot of people that are very, very conservative in their thinking and they think, 'Well, I don't have to do that.' But they're not thinking right," Justice said on ABC's "This Week." The governor has aggressively urged his residents to get vaccinated for months, and West Virginia has been offering everything from college scholarships to free hunting and fishing licenses as incentives.
Despite that, only 52 percent of adults in West Virginia have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Justice expressed frustration with the stalled efforts, particularly with getting young people "across the finish line."
"When it really boils right down to it, they're in a lottery to themselves," he said. "We have a lottery that says if you're vaccinated we're going to give you stuff. Well, you've got another lottery for them, and it's a death lottery."
Justice added that he thought the only thing that would compel some holdouts to get vaccinated would be the deaths of friends and family.
"What would put them over the edge is an awful lot of people dying," he said. "The only way it's really going to happen is a catastrophe that none of us want. We just have to keep trying."
On CBS's "Face the Nation," Gov. Spencer Cox, R-Utah, explained that his state's lower vaccination rate was partly the result of having the country's youngest population, adding that adults in Utah are getting vaccinated at the same rate as rest of nation. He called the vaccination gap among Republicans "troubling" and said "hopefully reason will rule."
Months ago, President Biden set a goal of having at least 70 percent of American adults receive at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by Independence Day, forecasting that it would be a day the country could celebrate its freedom from the virus. Though the Biden administration has fallen short of that goal, White House officials have nevertheless touted the efforts as an ongoing success.
"I think we're much further along than anyone would have anticipated at this point with two out of three adult Americans with at least one shot," White House covid response coordinator Jeff Zients said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. Notably, he added, nearly 90 percent of those age 65 and older had at least one shot, and 70 percent of those older than 27 have received at least one shot.
Zients said the administration remained concerned about the spike in cases caused by the delta variant in areas with lower vaccination rates, and that there were plans to "double down on efforts to vaccinate millions more Americans" in July and August.
"The vulnerability is where vaccination rates are lower," he said. "And that's just another reason to not only get yourself vaccinated for your own safety, but also for your family and for your community."
Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious-disease expert, lamented the divisiveness that has plagued the country in its efforts to counter the pandemic and stressed that the overwhelming proportion of people who are getting seriously ill or dying from covid now are those who are unvaccinated.
"When you talk about the avoidability of hospitalization and death, it's really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable," Fauci said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.
The vaccines were developed under the administration of President Donald Trump, whose counsel is avidly followed by many Republicans. But his endorsement of vaccination has been inconsistent, and he has continued to promote questionable covid treatments and to denigrate many health officials, especially those who countered his optimistic early view of the coronavirus threat.
Fauci has become a particular pariah among many Trump supporters, who have been inflamed by Trump's continued attacks on the scientist since leaving office. However, Fauci on Sunday dismissed the attacks as "noise" and urged people to set aside their political differences and realize that the coronavirus is the "common enemy."
"Some of [the reasons for not getting vaccinated] are ideologic, some of them are just fundamentally anti-vax or anti-science or what have you," Fauci said. "But, you know, we just need to put that aside now. We're dealing with a historic situation with this pandemic. And we do have the tools to counter it. So for goodness sakes, put aside all of those differences and realize that the common enemy is the virus."