COLUMN: Vaccination rates by state: It’s all about politics

Published 9:30 am Saturday, July 10, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

One of the biggest July 4th Stories from 2021 is whether the United States achieved its “independence” from COVID-19, in the form of high enough vaccination rates to achieve herd immunity.  America did achieve higher than average rates compared to other countries, but came up short of its July goal. And politics may be playing a role in this.

First, there’s the good news. According to Johns Hopkins’ data, the United States ranks 14th in the world for people fully vaccinated, well-above the world average. The USA trails only the Seychelles, Malta, San Marino, the United Arab Emirates, Iceland, Bahrain, Chile, Israel, Mongolia, Qatar, Uruguay, Hungary, and the United Kingdom. Few are the size or population of the USA, and America is ahead of most other developed countries, so that’s quite an accomplishment for America.

But here’s the bad news. Politics may be undermining America’s ability to achieve herd immunity.

To test whether this is the case, Erik Moran (one of my undergraduate students) and I looked at USA vaccination rates counting all cases where the person was fully vaccinated, not just partial cases.

We then looked at whether the state in question voted for President Donald Trump in 2020, or his challenger, Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden, that year. We also gathered data on who was the governor of the state.

States that voted for Trump in 2020 have an average vaccination rate of 37.8 percent. Those states that voted for Biden in 2020 had an average vaccination rate of 50.23 percent. The difference of 12.43 percentage points is statistically significant, meaning we can reject the null hypotheses that both variables are unrelated to each other.

We thought it might be a different story with Republican governors. After all, among the top ten vaccinated states, four of them are led by Republican chief executives, including the top two: Vermont and Massachusetts. New Hampshire and Maryland are also among the top ten, along with Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New Mexico and Washington, just ahead of New York, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii and Minnesota.

But when you look at the 33rd through 51st states, the ones lagging in vaccination rates, you’ll only find two Democratic governors on this list (in Louisiana and North Carolina).

States with a Republican governor have an average vaccination rate of 40.56%. For Democratic governors, their states have an average vaccination rate of 48.17%. Like the other test, this difference of means is statistically significant.

The states with low vaccination rates are going to lose out. As Salon and CNN report, “In Arkansas, where less than 35% of residents were fully vaccinated, the rate of transmission is roughly five times higher than the national rate.” And they add of all the counties with outbreaks, less than 3 percent have vaccination rates higher than 50 percent.

Americans have shown that they can be vaccinated, and can beat international averages.  Republican governors can lead states that can be among the leaders in vaccinations in America.  It’s time for those dragging their feet for whatever reason to get on board, and help the rest beat COVID-19 and fully retore our economy.