Massachusetts, a national leader in vaccinations, is also one of the states that leads in openness to vaccine mandates, according to a new study from a consortium that includes researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities.
Seventy-five percent of adults in Massachusetts support a universal vaccine mandate, while 81 percent support a vaccine mandate for people getting on planes, 71 percent support one for children going back to school, and 78 percent support one for students going to college, according to the research released last week by the COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States.
“We’re well above the national average. Our support level is one of the highest across the 50 states in nearly every case,” said Matthew Baum a public policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School who was one of the study’s authors.
Nationally, the study found 65 percent support for a universal vaccine mandate, 71 percent for an airplane travel mandate, 63 percent for a school vaccine mandate, and 68 percent for a college mandate. The researchers said the “very strong” numbers were generally up 1 to 2 percent from a similar survey conducted in June and July.
The national survey also asked respondents whether they supported “requiring large companies to ensure employees are vaccinated for COVID-19 or get tested regularly” and found 60 percent support. The study did not give state-level numbers for that question.
“It seems to me that the big takeaway from this is: If our leaders are willing to go there, a substantial majority of the public would be willing to follow,” Baum said. “Rather than paying a political price, you’re likely to reap a political reward if you’re willing to implement these sorts of policies in a great many circumstances.”
The majority of people “across nearly all partisan and demographic subgroups we investigated” supported vaccine mandates, the study said, but it said Republicans were a “notable exception.”
Forty-three percent of Republicans were in favor of a universal mandate, 41 percent supported a mandate for kids attending school, 47 percent supported a mandate for students attending college, and 35 percent supported requiring large companies to vaccinate employees or test them regularly. A slim majority of Republicans, 51 percent, supported mandating vaccines for people who want to get on an airplane.
Baum said vaccination had become politicized and “in this case it’s become more polarized than any other public health issue in my lifetime.”
The consortium includes Northeastern University, Harvard University/Harvard Medical School, Rutgers University, and Northwestern University. Since April 2020 the consortium has been conducting multiple waves of a large 50-state survey to determine people’s attitudes and behaviors regarding COVID-19. The survey about vaccine mandate attitudes was conducted between Aug. 26 and Sept. 27, 2021.
The online survey of a representative sample of people — more than 21,000 people nationally, including 453 in Massachusetts — allowed people to indicate whether they strongly approved, somewhat approved, strongly disapproved, or somewhat disapproved of a vaccine mandate. The study grouped “strongly approved” and “somewhat approved” responses together to come up with numbers for support of the mandate.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.