The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Boosters exacerbate the Republican-Democrat vaccine gap

Two protesters who refused to give their names demonstrate in Washington last week against coronavirus vaccine mandates and restrictions. (Shuran Huang for The Washington Post)
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No matter what you might hear on your favorite Fox News show or social media, the coronavirus vaccines are working — and boosters are working significantly better still. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week showed that unvaccinated people were about 13 times as likely to die of covid as people who were vaccinated but not boosted. They were also 53 times as likely to die, compared with people who had vaccinated and boosted.

New variants like omicron have rendered the vaccines significantly less effective in preventing infection. But the vaccines’ effectiveness in preventing the worst cases has held strong, which the critics almost always ignore.

In part because of these gaps in outcomes, and because Republicans are significantly less likely to get vaccinated, the pandemic’s death toll has registered very disproportionately in red areas. The chart below comes from The Post’s Philip Bump:

And now new data suggest the gap in protection between red and blue is growing in a significant way.

While much has been written about the partisan gap on vaccinations, the gap is now larger with boosters (as early data suggested it might be). It’s also likely to continue to grow further, according to a new monthly Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

To date, the survey shows about 9 in 10 Democrats and 6 in 10 Republicans have gotten vaccinated. But when it comes to those who are vaccinated and boosted, Democrats are about twice as likely to be in that group — 62 percent to 32 percent.

The survey also asked about people’s intentions, and that’s where the gap grows even more. While 58 percent of vaccinated-but-unboosted Democrats say they will get a booster as soon as they’re able, 18 percent of vaccinated-but-unboosted Republicans say the same.

If you add those to the number of people already boosted, that would translate to 79 percent of Democrats soon being boosted, compared with 37 percent of Republicans. That’s a 42-point partisan gap, compared with a less than 30-point gap in people who have at least gotten vaccinated.

What might that might mean for the already-evident partisan differences in outcomes? As noted above, there is a larger difference between unvaccinated people and boosted people than between unvaccinated people and unboosted (but previously vaccinated) people. That means there is also a significant difference between boosted people and unboosted people.

To be clear, the death rates for both remain extremely low. The weekly death rate over the final three months of 2021 was a little more than 1 per million for boosted people, and about 6 per million for vaccinated-but-unboosted people. Those compare to the 78 per million weekly rate we see from unvaccinated people. But we’ve also seen that protection from the vaccines wanes over time — more so for protection from infection, but also somewhat for protection from hospitalization and death — which is a big part of the reason for the booster push.

The gap between the unvaccinated and the vaccinated still accounts for an overwhelming chunk of the differences in outcomes, relative to boosted vs. unboosted people. But as time goes on, we’ll apparently see an even bigger gap between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to those who have the highest level of protection and those who don’t.

Among Democrats, about 8 in 10 would be in the group in which the weekly death rate was 1 per million, and another 1 in 10 would be in the 6 per million group. Among Republicans, about 3 in 10 would remain in the 78 per million group. And of the rest, it would be pretty evenly split between the most-protected group and the cohort that is still well-protected but less so.