Reprinted with permission from AlterNet
When COVID-19 was overwhelming New York City hospitals during the 2020 spring, a silly talking point in right-wing media was that residents of red states didn't need to worry about the pandemic because it only posed a threat to Democratic areas. But COVID-19, just as health experts predicted, found its way to red states in a brutal way. And the current COVID-19 surge is especially severe in red states that have lower vaccination rates. Journalist David Leonhardt, in an article published by the New York Times this week, examines a disturbing pattern: red states where residents are more likely to be anti-vaxxers and more likely to be infected with COVID-19 and die from it.
Leonhardt explains, "A Pew Research Center poll last month found that 86 percent of Democratic voters had received at least one shot, compared with 60 percent of Republican voters. The political divide over vaccinations is so large that almost every reliably blue state now has a higher vaccination rate than almost every reliably red state."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 percent of U.S.-based adults have been at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19. But vaccination rates can vary considerably from one state to another. The Mayo Clinic reports that rates for at least partial vaccination range from 77 percent in Vermont to 49 percent in Mississippi, 46 percent in Idaho and 52 percent in Alabama. Vermont is a deep blue state with a moderate Republican governor, while Mississippi, Idaho, and Alabama are deep red states that former President Donald Trump won by a landslide in 2020.
"It's worth remembering that COVID followed a different pattern for more than a year after its arrival in the U.S.," Leonhardt explains. "Despite widespread differences in mask wearing — and scientific research suggesting that masks reduce the virus' spread — the pandemic was, if anything, worse in blue regions. Masks evidently were not powerful enough to overcome other regional differences, like the amount of international travel that flows through major metro areas, which tend to be politically liberal. Vaccination has changed the situation."
Leonhardt continues, "The vaccines are powerful enough to overwhelm other differences between blue and red areas. Some left-leaning communities — like many suburbs of New York, San Francisco and Washington, as well as much of New England — have such high vaccination rates that even the unvaccinated are partly protected by the low number of cases. Conservative communities, on the other hand, have been walloped by the highly contagious Delta variant."
The Times reporter notes that in many other developed countries, the pandemic hasn't been politicized to the degree that it has in the United States.
"What distinguishes the U.S. is a conservative party — the Republican Party — that has grown hostile to science and empirical evidence in recent decades," Leonhardt observes. "A conservative media complex, including Fox News, Sinclair Broadcast Group and various online outlets, echoes and amplifies this hostility. Trump took the conspiratorial thinking to a new level, but he did not create it."
Epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding, in a Twitter thread posted over the weekend, argues that Republicans are "killing off" their own voters by promoting anti-vaxxer and anti-masker views:
Feigl-Ding points out that under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil — not unlike red states in the U.S.— has suffered high COVID-19 infection rates:
Leonhardt notes that the Delta variant has been especially deadly in Republican areas.
"Since Delta began circulating widely in the U.S.," according to Leonhardt, "COVID has exacted a horrific death toll on red America: In counties where Donald Trump received at least 70 percent of the vote, the virus has killed about 47 out of every 100,000 people since the end of June, according to Charles Gaba, a health care analyst. In counties where Trump won less than 32 percent of the vote, the number is about 10 out of 100,000."