DETROIT — Michiganders support the government requiring students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as federal regulators approve inoculation for all age groups, according to the findings of a new poll commissioned by the Detroit Regional Chamber.
A majority also believe the state, local government officials or school districts should make decisions on masking in schools, as opposed to parents. However, most parents with school-aged children who were surveyed — more than a third of those polled — opposed any vaccination mandate for students.
Voters are deeply divided on the concept of vaccine mandates, with a slim majority generally opposing such a requirement. But most do support the requirement to wear masks in public places, according to the survey.
The chamber opposes recent legislative efforts to prevent employers from requiring vaccinations. However, its poll found 51.9% oppose an employer requiring vaccinations for workers or customers.
"Those who are opposed are really opposed," said Sandy Baruah, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
"The passion on that side of the issue is, I would say, whiter and hotter than the other side. The passions burn deep on that," Baruah said.
More broadly, the survey found that the impact of the pandemic and related regulations is driving beliefs that the state and nation are headed in the wrong direction and voters are not as pleased with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or President Joe Biden as they were before.
The findings, released Monday to coincide with the start of the Mackinac Policy Conference, also come the same day Pfizer announced internal testing that shows its vaccine is safe and effective for children as young as 5.
A handful of sessions at the conference, hosted on Mackinac Island, will delve into COVID-19's impact on Michigan.
More than 55% of people surveyed support mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren, once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves inoculation for all kids and as long as there is a waiver program. That includes 40.8% who said they would strongly support such a mandate.
But that support is driven by Michiganders 65 and older, not those with school-aged children, said Richard Czuba, president of Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the poll.
Almost 56% of parents with kids in school now oppose a vaccine mandate, while 65% of those without children of that age supported such a rule.
"A lot of these parents are under the age of 50. That is the cohort, the 30-50 cohort, that tends to be more conservative than the state as a whole," Czuba said.
"Of those voters over 65, 81% of them support student vaccinations. And part of it is they come from an era, they lived through polio, they lived through measles. And they know exactly what that did to protect them ... but you start getting to the political war when you drop down to those voters under the age of 50."
More than 37% of those surveyed thought parents should have the power to decide whether their kids wear a mask to school. However, 21.5% said local health departments should make the choice, 14% favor a statewide decision and 13.7% thought individual school districts should have the final say.
That means approximately half of those polled thought a governmental entity should make the call on masking in schools. But it also shows the varying opinions on whether to enact the public health measure.
"So the bottom line is, vaccinated voters support vaccine requirements by about a 2-1 margin. But amongst those voters, there is an acknowledgment that it is an individual choice and that is particularly among Republicans and Independents who are vaccinated," Czuba said.
"Where the narrative changes is around masks. There is strong, majority supports for masks ... with only those who are unvaccinated opposing them."
The poll surveyed 600 Michigan voters between Aug. 20 and Sept. 4 and has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Of those surveyed, 223 had school-aged children. With a smaller sample size, the poll findings for this group of respondents has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percentage points.
The poll was conducted before Biden announced his broad plan to require businesses with more than 100 people to require employees be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing.
While a vocal minority of residents oppose vaccination in general, substantial research and near consensus among experts shows vaccines help curb the spread of the pandemic and weaken any symptoms for the relative few who are inoculated and still catch COVID-19.
Overall, children are less likely to experience severe symptoms, require hospitalization or die because of COVID-19. However, the number of children in dire need of care because of the pandemic has risen steadily, as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread across the country.
As of now, vaccines are only available to children age 12 and up. Even with Pfizer's announcement Monday, the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would need to sign off on younger children receiving vaccinations before any mass rollout could occur.
Millions of Michigan students returned to in-person class in recent weeks. Despite calls from Whitmer and health experts for masking and vaccinations, outbreaks and cases connected to schools have ballooned in the past two weeks.
The GOP-controlled Legislature has repeatedly chosen not to enact any kind of mask or vaccine mandates, instead working to ban them. Whitmer also has eschewed enacting any sort of school mask or vaccine requirement, instead pleading with local districts to create their own mandate.
More than half of Michigan students attend a school with a mask mandate. But that still leaves hundreds of thousands of students who are ineligible for vaccine at a school that does not requiring masking.
Right track or wrong track
Those polled believe Michigan and the U.S. are not headed in the right direction.
—58.5% believe the nation overall is on the wrong track
—57.7% believe the economy is on the wrong track
—47.9% approve of the job Whitmer is doing, with 46.3% disapproving. Those numbers are worse for Whitmer compared to the 59.1% approval rating the same poll found in October 2020
—53% disapprove of the job Biden is doing, with 39% approving
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