The political orientation of the governor affects the number of deaths both directly, through more or less restrictive policies of contagion control, and indirectly, through joining the vaccination campaign
Vaccine refusal is one of the main reasons why Covid-19 infections continue to rise in the United States. Safe and effective vaccines have been available for months, but by mid-September only 64% of eligible Americans (over 12 years of age) were fully vaccinated (55% of the total population). In many areas the majority of adults have not taken advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated and it is the same areas where infections and hospitalizations grow among children who, unable to get vaccinated, do not even enjoy the indirect protection of immune adults. The surveys carried out on the intention to get vaccinated have confirmed, moreover, that the health emergency has always been treated, from the beginning, as a political fact: the six states that did not call a lockdown between March and April 2020, for example, were all governed by the Republicans. Indeed, participants in the CPAC summer meeting, the conservative conference, rejoiced when the United States did not reach the vaccination targets that Biden wanted to achieve by July 4 (70% of Americans with at least one first dose). As shown in the graph elaborated by Elena Stanghellini, full professor of statistics at the University of Perugia, states ruled by Democrats show higher vaccination rates and a lower incidence of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants compared to states led by a republican governor.
In the graph (the data are from the week 17-23 September) the Democratic States are highlighted in blue and the Republican ones in red. “The data shows how the political orientation of the governor affects the number of deaths both directly, through more or less restrictive contagion control policies, and indirectly, through greater or lesser adherence to the vaccination campaign “, comments Stanghellini, who was part of the Istat advisory board for the realization of the serological survey and studies the numbers of Covid since the beginning of the pandemic. «The graph highlights two regularities. The first: the densification of the red states in the upper left and blue states in the lower right, with the consequent interpretation that Republican states are further behind in vaccination and less effective in preventing the incidence of mortality. The second: regardless of the color of the States, the expected number of deaths per 100 thousand inhabitants follows a linear decreasing trend compared to the proportion of completely vaccinated people, which is well represented by a regression line, which has statistically significant parameters “.
The numbers therefore show how vaccination rates are inversely proportional to the political orientation of individual states, with the republican ones hit hardest by the virus. In Florida, overwhelmed by the Delta variant, with collapsing hospitals and a very elderly population – 20.5%, where wealthy retired Americans spend the winter – Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has supported indefinite openings to avoid damaging the economy, opposes anti-Covid regulations and has the use of masks is prohibited in schools, threatening to get those who choose to protect themselves fired. “Not by chance – comments Elena Stanghellini – Florida has a weekly incidence of mortality per 100,000 inhabitants equal to approximately four times that expected according to the level of vaccination ‘. Also in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has threatened to drag the principals who enforce the use of the mask at school to court.
The political orientation weighs heavily on vaccination rates in the US. According to a KFF Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor poll, Republicans are four times more likely than Democrats to say that “they will certainly not get vaccinated against Covid-19.” Another Pew Research Center poll found in the past month that 86 percent of Democratic voters had received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared with 60 percent of Republican voters. According to analyst Charles Gaba since the Delta variant began massively circulating in the United States the heaviest death toll from Covid was in Red America: in the counties where Donald Trump won at least 70% of the votes in the 2020 elections, the virus has killed about 47 people out of 100,000 since the end of June; in those in which it obtained less than 32% of the votes there are about 10 victims per 100 thousand inhabitants.
Politically motivated denial of vaccine efficacy goes hand in hand with politicization of trust in science. As Adrian Bardon, professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University points out in an article published in The Conversation, a June-July poll by Gallup found that the percentage of Republicans who express “great” or “enough” confidence in science has dropped, surprisingly, from 72% in 1975 to just 45% today. Over the same period, trust in science among Democrats increased from 67% to 79%. But what does a person’s political orientation have to do with faith in science? According to the philosopher Bardon, the denial of science includes factors such as distrust of public institutions and perceived threats to one’s cultural identity. More studies suggest that identifying as Republicans is strongly associated with having anti-scientific beliefs. Furthermore, as Covid-19 has been heavily politicized since the start of the pandemic, public health measures have been directly associated with leftist politics. The refusal of such measures has consequently become a signal of political and cultural identity, as seen for example with the riots instigated by Trump in Michigan against the Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer, who had imposed one of the most restrictive lockdowns at the national level. And that’s why some areas of the United States are struggling to get out of the pandemic.
There remain 18 states that have yet to fully vaccinate at least half of all residents: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee , West Virginia and Wyoming. Only two, Louisiana and North Carolina, have a Democratic governor, but in the 2020 election they voted for Donald Trump and have a long conservative tradition. Of these 18 states, only Georgia was won by Joe Biden in November, by 11,000 votes. As in any rule, exceptions are also allowed, as shown in the graph. For example, North Dakota is a republican state led by the Trumpian Kristi Noem who, despite a low vaccination rate, managed to contain the death rate, much lower than expected. However, it is a state with just 700,000 inhabitants and a population density of 3.8 inhabitants per square kilometer (Italy has 192), without metropolitan areas, and we know that low population density is one of the factors that can limit the spread of the coronavirus infection.
At the opposite Alabama, a stronghold of the conservative party, has more than double the expected mortality calculated on the basis of the level of vaccination: recently the Montgomery Advertiser noted that more people have been killed in Alabama by Covid – 14,469 as of October 2, 2021 – than have died in the World, Korean and Vietnam wars. The weak local health system was sent haywire by the Delta variant in July when the state was last in vaccination rateOnly then did it accelerate, and today 42.5% of the population has received both doses. “In 2020, for the first time in history, our state had more deaths than births: it literally shrunk,” Alabama Health Minister Scott Harris said in mid-September.
Also Louisiana is in an anomalous situation: she has a Democratic governor, but she is deeply conservative and in the presidential elections Trump won 62% of the votes against Biden’s 36.5%. «This Southern State – comments Stanghellini – is an exception to the first rule, but not to the second. The vaccination rate is in fact low and this choice reveals the conservative tradition, however its level of incidence of deaths is not far from the expected one calculated on the basis of the percentage of vaccinated ». Massachusetts and Vermont fall into this category, but in the opposite direction: these are states governed by republicans, which, however, have largely preferred the democratic candidate to the presidential elections (Biden obtained 65% in the first and 53% in the second). “In both vaccination levels they are very high, they have even done better than the most virtuous democratic states and in fact have a low incidence of mortality from Covid-19”, adds the professor. Massachusetts, which vaccinated 67.8% of the population with two doses, is the only state that guarantees health coverage to almost all citizens – thanks to a reform passed in 2006, when Republican Mitt Romney was governor – and is the state with the fewest uninsured residents of America.
The data therefore show that in the United States politics plays a decisive role, with obvious consequences on the country’s ability to overcome a profound economic-health crisis and decisively face what is now in effect the fourth wave of Covid-19.
* The analyzes were made on the logarithmic transformations of the variables, however to facilitate understanding the graph shows the data in the original scale.
October 2, 2021 (change October 3, 2021 | 07:31)
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