Derechos | Equipo Nizkor
Pro-Trump counties now have far higher COVID death rates. Misinformation is to blame
Since May 2021, people living in counties that voted heavily for Donald Trump during the last presidential election have been nearly three times as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who live in areas that went for now-President Biden. That's according to a new analysis by NPR that examines how political polarization and misinformation are driving a significant share of the deaths in the pandemic.
NPR looked at deaths per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the U.S. from May 2021, the point at which vaccinations widely became available. People living in counties that went 60% or higher for Trump in November 2020 had 2.7 times the death rates of those that went for Biden. Counties with an even higher share of the vote for Trump saw higher COVID-19 mortality rates.
In October, the reddest tenth of the country saw death rates that were six times higher than the bluest tenth, according to Charles Gaba, an independent health care analyst who's been tracking partisanship trends during the pandemic and helped to review NPR's methodology. Those numbers have dropped slightly in recent weeks, Gaba says: "It's back down to around 5.5 times higher."
The trend was robust, even when controlling for age, which is the primary demographic risk of COVID-19 mortality. The data also reveal a major contributing factor to the death rate difference: The higher the vote share for Trump, the lower the vaccination rate.
The analysis only looked at the geographic location of COVID-19 deaths. The exact political views of each person taken by the disease remains unknowable. But the strength of the association, combined with polling information about vaccination, strongly suggests that Republicans are being disproportionately affected.
Recent polling data that show Republicans are now the largest group of unvaccinated individuals in the United States, more than any other single demographic group. Polling also shows that mistrust in official sources of information and exposure to misinformation, about both COVID-19 and the vaccines, run high among Republicans.
"An unvaccinated person is three times as likely to lean Republican as they are to lean Democrat," says Liz Hamel, vice president of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy think tank that tracks attitudes toward vaccination. Political affiliation is now the strongest indicator of whether someone is vaccinated, she says: "If I wanted to guess if somebody was vaccinated or not and I could only know one thing about them, I would probably ask what their party affiliation is."
It was not always this way. Earlier in the pandemic, many different groups expressed hesitancy toward getting vaccinated. African Americans, younger Americans and rural Americans all had significant portions of their demographic that resisted vaccination. But over time, the vaccination rates in those demographics have risen, while the rate of Republican vaccination against COVID-19 has flatlined at just 59%, according to the latest numbers from Kaiser. By comparison, 91% of Democrats are vaccinated.
Being unvaccinated increases the risk of death from COVID-19 dramatically, according to the CDC. The vast majority of deaths since May, around 150,000, have occurred among the unvaccinated, says Peter Hotez, dean for the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.
While vaccine hesitancy exists in many different groups, Hotez suspects that the deaths are "overwhelmingly" concentrated in more politically conservative communities. "How does this make sense at any level?" he asks.
The consequences for individuals are real. Mark Valentine still remembers when his brother called him to tell him he had contracted coronavirus. Valentine is a trial consultant in North Carolina. His brother Phil, 61, was a well-known conservative talk show host in Nashville, Tenn., who often expressed skepticism about vaccination.
Neither brother was vaccinated, and neither one was particularly worried about Phil's positive result. His brother said he was trying several alternative therapies commonly promoted in conservative circles. "He said, 'I've got the ivermectin, I started it this morning, and I don't think it's going to be a big deal,' " Mark Valentine recalls. "And frankly I didn't think about it anymore."
But a week later, Mark said he got a call from his brother's wife saying that the two were going to the hospital. "Before I knew it, he was in there and I couldn't get to him, couldn't talk to him," Valentine recalls. "His situation took a nosedive like you can't believe."
Phil Valentine died in August about five weeks after he announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Misinformation appears to be a major factor in the lagging vaccination rates. The Kaiser Family Foundation's polling shows Republicans are far more likely to believe false statements about COVID-19 and vaccines. A full 94% of Republicans think one or more false statements about COVID-19 and vaccines might be true, and 46% believe four or more statements might be true. By contrast, only 14% of Democrats believe four or more false statements about the disease.
[Source: By Daniel Wood and Geoff Brumfiel, NPR, Washington, 05Dec21]
|This document has been published on 05Dec21 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|