He said that “99.5 percent of the deaths that we’re seeing right now, Chris, from covid-19 are among those who are unvaccinated,” adding: “So I worry that we are seeing, in fact, significant increases among the unvaccinated. But the good news is the vaccinated are still highly protected.”
It was not a subtle point: Getting vaccinated protects your life and the lives of others by slowing or halting the virus’s spread. Refuse vaccinations and we’re in trouble.
A bit later, Wallace interviewed Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and asked why Louisiana had seen such low vaccination rates. Cassidy blamed a lack of trust in government — and President Biden.
“When you have partisan comments coming out of the White House regarding next Jim Crow laws, or people like Senator [Charles] Schumer and the White House not cooperating on a bipartisan bill — ‘Oh, here we’re going to be partisan, but over here you better trust us,’ ” Cassidy said. “That just doesn’t work.”
In other words, Cassidy believes that Louisianans have decided against being vaccinated because Biden lowered trust in government. This is nonsensical for a variety of reasons, including that trust in government was in decline well before Biden took office. It’s essentially an attempt to redirect blame toward Democrats and away from media on the right and Republican leaders who’ve repeatedly expressed skepticism about the vaccine and its rollout. The idea that Tucker Carlson’s incessant rhetoric misleadingly targeting vaccine safety and effectiveness is less of a factor than Biden’s praise for the vaccines while advocating Democratic policy positions is bizarre.
More important, for more than a year, beginning when he was president, Donald Trump has explicitly fostered distrust in government experts, insisting to his base that the pandemic was not a big deal out of concern that it would hurt his reelection chances. After initially embracing expert recommendations aimed at combating the virus, he eventually turned government experts into political foils, even plucking an advocate of allowing unchecked infections off Fox News to serve on his coronavirus task force. His efforts to take full credit for the rollout of the vaccines ran into the wall of skepticism that he himself had built.
He was left in the situation that Cassidy tried to pin on Biden: After working so hard to undercut official expertise on masks, closures and distancing, Trump was asking his base to trust that expertise on vaccines. His wan efforts to encourage vaccinations — dropped into sporadic interviews and speeches — seemed to reflect an understanding that he knew where his base was and that he wasn’t interested in trying to change their minds on the utility of government efforts. After leading his base to a place where they shrugged at the virus, he ended up either having to change their minds or join them.
Over the weekend, he joined them.
“People are refusing to take the Vaccine because they don’t trust his Administration, they don’t trust the Election results, and they certainly don’t trust the Fake News,” he wrote in a statement over the weekend, “which is refusing to tell the Truth.”
When Cassidy makes this point, it’s obvious deflection. When Trump makes it, it’s ridiculous.
By now, the correlation between politics, vaccinations and new infections is obvious. In April, the density of vaccinations in blue counties began to diverge from red counties. Now, there’s an 11-point gap in the density of fully vaccinated people in blue counties and red ones. Even among the most at-risk Americans, those ages 65 and older, Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated.
There are a lot more counties that voted for Trump than for Biden, but Biden won because many of those counties have relatively small populations. The median Biden-voting county at this point has 46 percent of its population fully vaccinated. The median Trump-voting county is only 34 percent vaccinated.
(Some states, such as Texas, don’t provide county-level vaccination data to the CDC, so they aren’t included.)
As we’ve noted before, there’s an obvious correlation between the scale of vaccinations in a county and how it voted in 2020. Not only are Trump-voting counties less densely vaccinated, but the counties that voted most heavily for Trump are generally among the least densely vaccinated.
To Murthy’s point, these are also many of the places where the virus is surging. If we scale the circles on the graph above to show the change in new cases over the past two weeks (with counties seeing no change or declines being removed), you can see how heavily weighted new cases are in the redder, less densely vaccinated areas. Not exclusively, certainly, but disproportionately.
Even in counties that have had vaccination rates above the median, cases are increasing. They’re up 6.3 cases per 100,000 residents in red counties compared with 5.6 cases in blue ones — and up 7.7 cases in counties with full vaccination rates under the median compared to 5.4 cases in counties over the median.
Again, cases are up overall, in part because of the ability — however significantly reduced — of vaccinated people to contract the virus and, more important, to the fact that even in heavily vaccinated counties pockets of unvaccinated people are still at heightened risk.
The correlation to politics as the situation deteriorates is clear. It also raises a new conundrum.
One of the trends we’ve seen over the past year, applying to masking, distancing and vaccinations, is that those who are less worried about the virus are less likely to support measures to prevent its transmission. That makes sense, certainly, but it also means that places where vaccinations are low because of indifference are also less likely to be places where the population would support a renewed mandate on mask-wearing or new closures of businesses should things continue to get worse. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that those who were unwilling to be vaccinated also thought officials were exaggerating the threat of the delta variant of the coronavirus, a highly contagious version that now makes up most new cases. One reason people — often Republicans — aren’t getting vaccinated is that they don’t treat the virus seriously. And if they don’t treat the virus seriously, they’re not going to make serious efforts to combat it.
To think that Biden bears more blame for this than Trump is ludicrous, particularly because many Republicans have waved virus concerns away for more than a year. Resistance to simple measures such as wearing a mask are now part of the Republican culture war, with possible 2024 presidential candidates such as South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis jockeying to demonstrate how little they plan to do to combat the virus’s spread. Trump, another possible 2024 candidate, seems now to be throwing his hat back into that ring.
Thousands of people who declined to get vaccinated will die unnecessarily. Biden’s political opponents are doing their best to drop that in his lap — including the former president who has chosen the easy path of agreeing with his base over the trickier one of undoing a year’s worth of propaganda.