What’s interesting about that framing is how it inverts the way in which we’ve usually looked at the uptake of coronavirus vaccines. Instead of considering how many Americans have been vaccinated, in other words, it asks us to look at how many haven’t. That’s in keeping with the recent news reports that mirror Walensky’s point, news reports showing that those being hospitalized or dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, are overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
In Los Angeles County, for example, every person hospitalized with covid-19 Friday was not fully vaccinated. While California has a relatively high rate of vaccinations — 63 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, compared with 58 percent of the country overall — it is nonetheless home to more unvaccinated people than any other state by virtue of its size. According to the most recent CDC data, California has 14.7 million unvaccinated residents, 7.3 million of whom are adults. While that’s a big decline since the beginning of the year, it’s still more than any other state.
Here’s what that decline looks like across states.
I’ve highlighted two points on those graphs. The first point, A, shows a comparison of the third- and fourth-ranked states in terms of unvaccinated populations. Florida has more unvaccinated people than any other state save California and Texas and New York is just behind Florida. But notice how close the red and blue lines are at point A but how they grow wider apart. New York is seeing a faster decrease in its unvaccinated population than is Florida.
Florida is also home to 1 in 5 new coronavirus infections over the past week.
Point B shows how that same pattern plays out among adults. According to the Census Bureau, there are 9 million more adults in California than in Texas. But because California has been doing a better job vaccinating its population, there are now more unvaccinated adults in Texas than in California.
You’ve noticed that I colored the line for each state by how it voted in the 2020 presidential election. I’ve repeatedly pointed out that states that voted for President Biden — blue states — have seen higher rates of vaccination than states that voted for Donald Trump. That New York and California are seeing faster drops in their unvaccinated populations than Texas and Florida reflects that.
But we can look at this at a macro level as well. The same pattern as seen in points A and B holds across all 50 states and D.C. There are essentially as many unvaccinated people in blue states as red ones, despite blue states being home to tens of millions more people. There are now more unvaccinated adults in red states, and have been for more than a month.
We can look at this another way. If we rank each state by month, you can see that red states are often rising in the ranks of unvaccinated residents — which is bad — as blue states often fall. Ohio had the seventh-most unvaccinated residents in February; now it’s in fifth place. There were seven red states in the top 20 five months ago. Now there are 10.
That Los Angeles County is seeing a spike in cases that has prompted a reintroduction of mask mandates is a reminder that political geography isn’t destiny. But by tracking the population of unvaccinated people over time, we get a better sense for which regions are at risk as this becomes “a pandemic of the unvaccinated”: regions with more unvaccinated people, which tend to be places that lean more heavily Republican.
Meaning, as in Florida, places that are also going to be less likely to reintroduce containment rules and places where demand for vaccines remains low.