How were some Evangelicals nudged into taking COVID-19 Vaccine?

An anti-vaccination caricature by James GillrayThe Cow-Pock – or – The Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! (1802)

For some, not taking the vaccine and not wearing a mask was very much a political / religious statement of defiance. While a hard core took a solid stance, there was, and still is, a far wider majority carried along by that utterly crazy bit of social insanity.

I’m making a couple of assumptions here. For clarity I’m assuming you dear reader do accept these well-established truths…

  • Vaccines work
  • Proper mask usage really is effective
  • The COVID-19 vaccine was not some satanic plot to inject you with nanobots, grant you magnetic superpowers, or … well you know the shtick. Basically insert any utterly bizarre claim you can dream up and then magnify it.

As a group the rather stark reality is that Evangelicals are among the most hesitant to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In that context, some did indeed get vaccinated. What made them different, what tipped them into making that decision?

The background social context is this. As of May 2022, White Evangelical Christians represented almost a third of unvaccinated adults in the U.S. hence identifying as White Evangelical puts you into a group where there is considerable social pressure to not get vaccinated.


  • A belief that the vaccine is not safe
  • The thought that the vaccine was developed too quickly
  • Fear of needles
  • There are also some religious concerns as well, for example concerns related to the use of stem cells

The importance of coming to a better understanding of why this specific demographic is hesitant and why some broke free of the social pressure and got vaccinated is very important. Because 29% of US adults identify as Evangelical, having an effective strategy to decrease vaccine hesitancy is the path to finally ending the pandemic.

We now have a new insight via the following study.

Between Healthcare Practitioners and Clergy: Evangelicals and COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy

The above study was conducted by researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University.

What exactly did they do?

Roughly about one year ago in Sep 2021, the researchers utilised the panel research firm Qualtrics to recruit 531 people who identified as Evangelical. They specifically picked then from a wider group because they identified as “Evangelical Protestant”.

For those that opted to be vaccinated, they asked questions such as “When deciding whether to get a COVID-19 vaccine, how much did you turn to religious leaders for information,” with answer options such as “Not at all,” “A little,” “Some,” and “A lot.

Beyond that they then probed deeper with questions like these …

Would each of the following make you more likely to get vaccinated for COVID-19, less likely to get vaccinated for COVID-19, or would it make no difference,”

  • “A religious leader you trust got the vaccine,”
  • “You could get the vaccine at a nearby religious congregation,”
  • “A religious leader you trust encouraged you to get the vaccine,”
  • “Your religious community provided assistance in getting an appointment to get the vaccine.”

The goal was to understand what nudges this community one way or the other.

They were also interested in understanding how they felt about their COVID risk by asking if they felt their chances of getting it were low or high, and if they did get it, how worried they were about the impact it would have on them.

Additionally they also assessed the concerns they had about being vaccinated.

OK, let’s cut to the chase. What came out of all this once they had crunched the numbers?

Who had been vaccinated in this sample?

First, a bit of context. The numbers of those within this survey broke down like this …

  • 40.5% of respondents reported they had already gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose
  • 19.6% said they were planning to get the vaccine
  • 20.3% reported to be undecided (designated as “Undecided”)
  • 19.6% reported they would definitely not get the COVID-19 vaccine

What insights did the survey yield?

The goal was to see if they could learn anything of value to help public health officials to reach out and effectively communicate with hesitant groups.

What they discovered is that a more effective strategy involved reaching out to younger evangelicals living in rural areas with a focus on both the health benefits of the vaccine, and also by addressing some of the barriers to vaccination as part of that outreach.

However, one additional step is that it would best be accomplished through a careful collaboration between public health officials, healthcare providers, and religious leaders.


Well because those living in suburban areas, were more likely to have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine than their rural counterparts.

Their findings also indicated that Evangelicals who reported seeking information from their religious leaders about getting the COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less likely to be vaccinated, hence getting those religious leaders on board would potentially increase uptake.

Bottom Line: Working with Evangelical leaders so that they understand, endorse, and communicate the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination and its alignment with Christian values should be a strategy for public health professionals and healthcare providers.

Interestingly enough, those that went to their healthcare provider for guidance instead of their religious leader were significantly more likely to be vaccinated. This is most probably because they already had a solid trust in healthcare providers.

There are a few issues with this study

There will have been some selection bias in play. Hardcore anti-science individuals would most probably not be inclined to participate in the study.

The study also treats Evangelicals as one relatively homogenous group. In reality there is a significant diversity within the movement. For example since about 2016 onwards there are increasing numbers who use the term “evangelical” as a political identity and not a religious identity – many of those new political “evangelicals” don’t actually attend any church at all. There are also left-leaning evangelicals who are wholly on board with public health policies and right-leaning evangelicals who bask in a flow of disinformation and resist such policies.

This would suggest that a further deeper dive study should consider such factors.

Quotes from the Study Authors

Via their press release that was published Sep 28, 2022…

“I’m hoping that this will help us not just create better messaging and create better trust relationships related to the COVID vaccine, but also to other vaccines, We’re still dealing with COVID, but we may be able to extrapolate this to the flu vaccine, the HPV vaccine, the MMR vaccine, to the next pandemic’s vaccine.”

 Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences and director of the Media+Health Lab

While it is true that, generally, this group of people are vaccine hesitant, our study revealed more nuance related to age, family status and rural/urban dynamics, Furthermore, this research helps religious leaders understand just how influential they are not only in their parishioners’ spiritual health, but also their physical health.”

Gina A. Zurlo, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and co-author of the study

Why does this really matter?

Let’s leave that last word to the study author …

We still lose too many people to COVID every single day, Anything I can do to help make it easier for people to protect themselves, that’s what I want to do.

Further Reading

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