As COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates End, a Slim Majority of Americans Still Supports Most of Them
Since 2020, Morning Consult has surveyed hundreds of thousands of Americans in ongoing surveys to gauge the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on public opinion and behaviors across a wide range of categories, from politics and economics to moviegoing and dining. Now that the World Health Organization has declared an end to the COVID-19 global health emergency, this series explores how much has returned to normal — and how many norms are lost entirely.
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The Biden administration’s decision to scrap COVID-19 vaccination requirements for federal workers and contractors — coinciding with the end of the public health emergency — comes at a time when public support for such mandates has been remarkably stable for over a year.
Morning Consult data shows that a slim majority of U.S. adults back COVID-19 vaccine mandates for federal, state and local governments, as well as schools — trends that have mostly held steady since February 2022.
COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements
Roughly half the public backs COVID-19 vaccine requirements
- Support for vaccine mandates was highest in the months immediately after the first versions of the Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson shots hit the market. In September 2021, a majority of U.S. adults backed required vaccinations for local (62%), state (64%) and federal government (63%) employees, as well as mandates for employers (60%), schools (63%) and businesses (58%).
- Backing for vaccine mandates dipped over the next several months, though at least 50% of the public was still on board. While support for employer and business COVID-19 vaccine requirements occasionally dipped just below that threshold, the overall trends have been relatively stable since February 2022.
- In the final update of Morning Consult’s Return to Normal tracker, at least half of U.S. adults said they support mandates for local, state and federal government employees, as well as employers and schools, while 49% backed requirements for businesses.
- One possible explanation for the enduring support of vaccine mandates: A slim majority of U.S. adults (52%) are still “very” or “somewhat” concerned about the omicron variant, including 59% of those who have been vaccinated. And while very few Americans view COVID-19 as a “severe” health risk in their community (11%), roughly a quarter are still “very” concerned about the virus generally.
End of public health emergency shifts focus to next stage of COVID-19 vaccine plan
In the week leading up to the expiration of the U.S. public health emergency declaration, the White House announced that it would end vaccine requirements for federal workers and contractors, while starting the same process for health care workers, Head Start educators and noncitizens at U.S. land borders.
Dr. Daniel Salmon, a vaccinologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, noted that the “substantial minority” of the public opposed to COVID-19 vaccination made the implementation of any mandates “really challenging.” Now that the country is turning the page on such mandates, it's wait and see on whether the Biden administration’s push for an annual COVID-19 booster campaign akin to the flu shot will be effective.
The costs associated with an annual COVID-19 vaccine are top of mind for Salmon, who praised the country’s childhood vaccine program while noting that the adult program lacks “adequate funding,” with poor surveillance cited as a consequence.
“Part of the problem with the COVID vaccine was we didn't have that infrastructure to rely on. We paid a price for it,” Salmon said. “As COVID becomes like other adult vaccines, what we really need is that infrastructure for all vaccines. Cost can’t be a barrier, access can't be a barrier.”
The latest Morning Consult Return to Normal: Views of the Pandemic survey was conducted May 4-7, 2023, among a representative sample of 2,202 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Matt Bracken is a senior editor at Morning Consult leading coverage of energy, finance, health and tech. @MattBracken