A stark divide in the vaccination rates of blue and red states has grown more prominent in recent months, imperiling a full national recovery.
While a partisan divide fueled in large part by former President Trump has been a defining characteristic of COVID-19 in the United States, the gap is becoming more worrisome once again with the deadly delta variant.
According to data across 2,415 counties analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), the vaccination gap between counties that voted for Trump in the 2020 election and those that voted for President Biden has nearly doubled in less than two months.
As of May 11, an average of 28.5 percent of people in Trump counties were fully vaccinated, compared with 35 percent in Biden counties. As of Tuesday, the rate is 35 percent for Trump counties, compared with 46.7 percent in Biden counties.
Some GOP governors have been issuing urgent pleas for their citizens to get vaccinated, but polls show Republicans, especially men, are disproportionately more likely to say they will never get vaccinated.
“The solution is the vaccinations,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said during a Sunday appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
But he acknowledged the partisan divide has made it difficult to boost the vaccination rate in his state, which is toward the bottom in the U.S. rankings. According to data compiled by The New York Times, only 42 percent of residents in Arkansas have received at least one vaccine dose.
“In a rural state, a conservative state, there is hesitancy, and we’re trying to overcome that,” Hutchinson said. “We got the early vaccinations out because people were anxious. They were in a very vulnerable population. Our cases went down dramatically. And that slowed the vaccination rate. The urgency diminished. And now it’s picking up again.”
Asked about vaccine hesitancy on ABC’s “This Week,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) said people need to realize choosing not to be vaccinated is tantamount to a death wish.
“When it really boils right down to it, they’re in a lottery to themselves. We have a lottery, you know, that basically says if you’re vaccinated, we’re going to give you stuff. Well, you’ve got another lottery going on, and it’s the death lottery,” Justice said.
Only 44 percent of West Virginians have received a vaccine dose, according to the Times.
Jennifer Kates, a KFF senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy, said a partisan divide isn’t the only factor driving the vaccination gap, but it is the most prominent.
The deep-blue state of Vermont has the highest share of its population with at least one vaccine dose, at 74 percent, followed by Massachusetts, Hawaii, New Hampshire and Connecticut.
The states with the lowest vaccination rates are all deeply red; Mississippi, at 36 percent, is the worst in the nation. None of the other four states that round out the bottom five — Alabama, Idaho, Wyoming and Louisiana — have given more than 40 percent of their entire population a single dose.
A Washington Post-ABC poll found that, nationwide, 86 percent of Democrats have received at least one shot of a vaccine, compared with 45 percent of Republicans. The poll found that 38 percent of Republicans overall said they will definitely not get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Kates said if there continue to be pockets of holdouts, the virus may never be fully neutralized. New variants could continue to arise and spread among the unvaccinated.
“We’re going to potentially have ongoing cycles of the pandemic in this country and beyond,” Kates said.
The states with low vaccination rates are most at risk from the highly contagious delta variant, which has now been found in all 50 states. Administration health officials have said they expect the delta variant to become the dominant strain in a matter of weeks.
The White House, acknowledging the vaccination gap, is shifting tactics to a more grassroots approach. President Biden on Tuesday laid out a series of steps his administration is taking to make the vaccine more accessible, with a focus on community-level outreach and getting the shot to young people.
Officials will also be sending COVID-19 “surge teams” to communities with low vaccination rates to help combat the rapidly spreading delta variant.
Last week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said there are about 1,000 counties in the country that have vaccination coverage of less than 30 percent, primarily in the South, East and Midwest.
“In some of these areas we are already seeing increasing rates of disease. As the delta variant continues to spread across the country, we expect to see increased transmissions in these communities, unless we can vaccinate more people,” Walensky said.
Public health officials and experts are worried the divergent vaccination could create two Americas: one where most people are vaccinated and another where low vaccination rates could lead to case spikes.
“As a nation as a whole we are doing very well,” Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said in an interview Sunday on “Meet the Press.”
“But we have a big country with disparity in the willingness to be vaccinated. So … it’s going to be regional. And that’s the thing that will be confusing when people look at what we do. We’re going to see, and I’ve said, almost two types of America.”
Fauci urged people to put aside their political differences.
“We’re dealing with a historic situation with this pandemic. And we do have the tools to counter it. So for goodness’ sakes, put aside all of those differences and realize that the common enemy is the virus,” he said.
Via The Hill