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Vaccine Hesitancy in the United States: Is it Correlated to Politics?

The United States is currently being surpassed by countries which, just a couple of months ago, had half of America's vaccination rate. What is going on and is there any correlation to politics?

The progress of the vaccination campaign in brief

Despite a mediocre kickoff of the vaccination campaign in late December, combined efforts from the Trump and Biden administrations made it possible to administer 100 million doses within the then President-elect's first 100 days and structure the rollout. The vaccines approved for use by the Food & Drug Administration are three: Pfizer-BioNTech's two doses vaccine, Moderna's two doses vaccine, and Janssen/Johnson&Johnson's single-dose vaccine

The vaccination campaign continued with incredible speed throughout the next months until mid May, when graphs started to show an increasingly flattening line. That is when the issue of vaccine hesitancy and hostility finally hit home. Everyone who wanted to be vaccinated had already received their first dose, but, to reach herd immunity, there were still millions of people to convince. Vaccination rates hit their peak in April, when nearly four to five millions of people per day were receiving their first shot. At the same time, in mid April, vaccine elegibility was expanded to everyone 16 and up, in an effort to stop infections caused by teenagers. A month later, when Pfizer's request to authorize vaccine administration on 12-15-year-olds was approved by the FDA, almost the entirety of the American population was elegible to get vaccinated. Since then, as people eager to get their shots got vaccinated, daily vaccination rates decreased dramatically to approximately 500,000 doses administered per day.

Which states are ranked among the lowest in terms of vaccination rates and is there a correlation to politics?

The states with the lowest one dose-vaccination rates are mostly located in the South. Mississippi, where only a little over a third of the population has been vaccinated, is the state with the lowest vaccination rate, closely followed by Louisiana, Alabama, Wyoming, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, Montana, South Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia.

As you can see, all of the states mentioned above have one thing in common: they all voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2020. Vaccination has become political.

There’s a strong correlation between politics and vaccination rates — stronger than any other metric. The counties with the most vaccine-hesitant residents generally also voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by large margins, whereas the counties with the lowest levels of hesitancy generally also had fewer Trump voters. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend shows a stark divide in vaccination hesitancy by political group. Overall, about a fifth of Americans say they definitely won’t get vaccinated. That’s about the percentage for independents and Whites overall. But among Republicans and White conservatives, the figure is more than a third.

Among the Biden-voting states that are below the best-performing red state, Florida, are four states that flipped blue in November. Only one state that voted against Trump in both 2016 and 2020 is below the red states: Nevada.

There’s actually a correlation between how consistently a state voted for Trump or Biden and the rate of vaccinations. Setting aside D.C., an outlier both in the vote margin and in the rate of vaccinations due to local issues especially with the African American community, plotting vaccination rates against 2020 votes creates a remarkably straight line of points.

All of this reinforces the idea introduced by that poll: Republicans and conservatives are more likely to say they won’t get vaccinated. For those who’ve observed American politics in the past 18 months, it’s not a mystery why. Treating the coronavirus pandemic as a threat to public health has become entangled with Democratic policy priorities, no doubt thanks in part to Trump’s effort to dismiss the pandemic as a non-issue as he sought reelection.

We also see from the Post-ABC poll that people who see their own risk of contracting the virus as low are more likely to say they won’t get vaccinated. A fifth of those who see their risk as low say they definitely won’t get a shot, compared with about 1 in 8 of those who see a more elevated risk.

It’s not all politics, certainly. There are a lot of reasons people might opt not to get a vaccination, despite the obvious and increasing evidence of its efficacy, even when combating a more virulent iteration of the virus such as the delta variant. But the data suggests strongly that some part of it is politics — which suggests that maybe this level of hesitancy might have been avoidable.

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