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From Big Government To Trump To Rumors: Baltimore County GOP Leaders On Why Some Are Refusing COVID Vaccine

The vaccination clinic at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus
Baltimore County
The vaccination clinic at the Community College of Baltimore County's Essex campus

A series of recent polls show Republicans are less likely than Democrats to get the COVID-19 vaccine. GOP legislators in Baltimore County say some of their conservative constituents are hesitant to get the vaccine.

The six county Republican office holders interviewed for this story have all been vaccinated. But they say some of their constituents are telling them they’ll take a pass.

Del. Ric Metzgar, whose district includes Dundalk and Essex, said for some it’s an issue of government interference.

“It’s like a second amendment thing,” Metzgar said. “Don’t take my guns away and don’t tell me I have to do something. That’s so silly to me, and I’m a conservative.”

An NPR/Marist poll released Tuesday found 36% percent of Republicans said they will not get vaccinated, compared to 9% of Democrats.

Other Republican legislators cited the “less government” philosophy of conservatives as playing a role in vaccine hesitancy. County Councilman Wade Kach, who represents a large swath of the county, from Hereford to Cockeysville to Jacksonville, said Republicans are more independent.

“And don’t think the government should be telling them what to do, when to do it and how to do it and are a bit more leery of programs like this,” Kach said.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson and Perry Hall, believes presidential politics is at play as well because, he said, the COVID pandemic was a factor in Donald Trump’s defeat.

“We live in an era where everything is viewed through a partisan lens,” Marks said. “And I suspect a lot of people just equate the vaccine distribution with what happened politically last year.”

Marks said conservative seniors who are more at risk from COVID seem to be more likely to get vaccinated than younger Republicans.

“A lot of people I talk to who aren’t getting it just think that they’re healthy enough to survive this,” Marks said.

However, Marks added many Republicans in his district were clamoring to get vaccinated.

"I heard from far more Republicans who wanted the vaccine than I did those who were very suspicious of the vaccine," Marks said.

Another issue, according to Delegate Bob Long, is that unsubstantiated rumors are being spread in his district in Eastern Baltimore County.

Long said, “There was one about fetuses and aborted stem cells. I don’t know. There is a whole bunch of stuff. It’s one thing after another. When you start digging down most of it is just false information.”

Baltimore County is politically divided. The seven-member council is made up of four Democrats and three Republicans. The further east you go in the county, the more conservative it gets.

Some of the county’s hardest hit COVID areas are on the East side, in Delegate Metzgar’s district.

“I don’t have enough fingers and toes to tell you how many personal people that I know that have passed away that were in much better health than I was and got COVID and passed away,” Metzgar said. “So, the COVID is the real thing.”

Metzgar said after his first vaccination he was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms. Despite that, he got his second shot and said he has no regrets.

The county earlier this month kicked off a Vaccination Education Campaign to increase public confidence among residents who are underrepresented in the county’s vaccine registry. Conservatives are one of the groups being targeted.

When you ask the Republican legislators what role they could play to get more conservatives vaccinated, it’s generally a ‘you ask me, and I’ll tell you I got the shot’ approach.

State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, who represents Eastern Baltimore County said, “You can try to be a responsible person, and just try to do what’s right for yourself and show other people it’s the right thing to do at the same time.”

State Sen. Chris West, whose district runs from Towson to the Pennsylvania line, plans to get more aggressive once the General Assembly session ends April 12. West said he will fire off a newsletter to his fellow Republicans to try to convince them to get vaccinated.

West said, “I’ve got like a 15,000-person mailing list, I’m going to urge people to go ahead and take the vaccine.”

The state reports more than 2.6 million doses have been given so far. West said that should suggest for those who have been reluctant to get the vaccine that the time for them to be hesitant is over.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2