TURES COLUMN: Red states led vaccination rates under Trump, but not anymore

Published 11:30 am Friday, August 20, 2021

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Is there political bias in vaccination rates? Our study goes one step beyond any other analysis.  We found that red states led in vaccination rates and blue states were behind while Trump was president.  But now that Biden is president, those states that supported Democrats in the election went from laggers to leaders in vaccination rates, while those preferring Trump are among those dragging their heels.

Many studies look the relationship between politics and vaccination rates. A study done by the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that, in a group of 1,480 self-identified Republicans, unvaccinated participants who were exposed to the pro-vaccination statements by former president Donald Trump were 7% more likely to increase their intention to vaccinate. However, participants who viewed the pro-vaccination endorsements by Joe Biden and other Democrats reported they would be significantly less likely to encourage others to vaccinate, compared with those who viewed the Republican elite endorsement or the neutral control.

Furthermore, according to data compiled by the New York Times in April, states with larger Trump votes shares, such as North Dakota, West Virginia, and Oklahoma, are much more likely to have more adults who are vaccine hesitant. Conversely, states with larger Biden vote shares, such as Vermont and Massachusetts, are much more likely to have less adults who are vaccine hesitant.

This is further supported by the fact that in the 10 states where the government projected that residents would probably get a COVID-19 vaccine were won by Biden in the 2020 election, while 9 of the 10 states where the most residents said they would probably or definitely not get the vaccine were won by Trump, the exception being Georgia, which Trump narrowly lost.

Such studies of the politics of vaccination rates are typically looking at recent numbers. We have no idea if blue states have chief executives better at organizing vaccine drives, or if red states are more likely to have residents with vaccine hesitancy no matter who is president.

That was the case, until our study. We gathered data on current vaccination rates by state, from July,2021, six months into Biden’s presidency. We compared them to vaccination rates by state throughout January 2021, when Donald Trump was still president. Data on both sets were confined to first dose cases, due to the relative novelty and time gap between shots for a number of vaccines. The results were shocking.

Alaska was leading the United States in vaccination rates in January of this year, but has fallen to 30th. Number two in vaccination rates from Trump’s presidency was West Virginia. Today, that state ranks 41st in the percentage of states with the population having at least one dose.

North Dakota was third. Now it’s 44th. And South Dakota, once ranked fourth in the waning days of the Trump Administration, is now number 29 for vaccinating people with at least one shot.

Oklahoma fell from ninth in January to 39th in July. And other states that were once above average in vaccination rates when Trump was in charge are now below average in getting people at least one shot, including Nebraska, Kentucky, Utah, Montana, Tennessee and Wyoming.

But it is a similar story for blue states. Once leery of getting vaccinated with Trump in office, residents of these states that elected Biden now have populations more willing to be vaccinated.  Massachusetts was once 28th in the country in vaccination rates in January, but is now second in the country in that category.

Today, Hawaii is 3rd in vaccination rates, when it was once 33rd under Trump. California used to be 46th in vaccination rates in January, but has jumped to 12th.

It’s a similar story for other states that were once below average in vaccination rates with a Republican in the White House (Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, Illinois, Virginia, Delaware, Minnesota and Wisconsin), which are now all above average in state vaccination rates.

Clearly, our politics have become so polarized that the choice to make a life-and-death decision depends on who is in the White House. Perhaps a bipartisan approach may be the best solution in a vaccination push, if America is to have any chance at conquering the coronavirus by achieving herd immunity.