The extra toll in Republican counties is significant, especially given that one million people have now died of COVID-19 in the U.S.
National Public Radio examined deaths from COVID-19 per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the country from May 2021, a time when most Americans could obtain vaccines. Those living in counties that voted 60% or higher for Trump in 2020 had 2.26 times the death rate of counties that voted in comparable percentages for Biden, NPR reported.
Counties with a higher share of Trump votes had even higher mortality rates.
While COVID-19 death rates in regions are affected by several factors, including things like wealth and access to health care, death rates closely followed rates of vaccinations, which Republican lawmakers, activists and media personalities often railed against. Not only did they urge people not to get the vaccine, but often spread frightening disinformation about the vaccines.
According to an analysis released by Brown University this month, nearly 320,000 lives nationwide could have been saved if more people had chosen to get vaccinated.
And political affiliation continues to be the largest predictor of vaccination status, according to the non-partisan think tank the Kaiser Family Foundation. In the NPR study, 81% of adults were vaccinated in the counties that went strongly for Biden, compared to 60% of adults in counties that went for Trump.
The Brown study found that states that went most heavily for Trump – including West Virginia and Wyoming – had among the highest rates of preventable deaths. States that voted heavily for Biden – such as Massachusetts and Vermont – had among the lowest.
Democratic areas initially suffered some of the highest death rates from the pandemic because COVID-19 first hit hardest in major metropolitan areas. But Republican areas surpassed those death rates once vaccines became available and residents there opted not to get them.
Many COVID-19 deaths occurred in 2020 before vaccines were available. But half of the deaths after that could have been averted if all adults in an area were vaccinated, according to the Brown study.
After the beginnings of the pandemic, which hit cities hardest, statistics gathered in various studies have consistently demonstrated significantly higher COVID-19 cases and death rates in Republican areas over Democratic areas.
Some researchers predict the discrepancy will lessen over time with larger numbers surviving the disease, decreasing their chances of death from subsequent bouts.
But Harvard University epidemiologist William Hange fears that politicians could continue to use vaccinations as a “wedge” issue for political gain, and could next target all vaccinations and seriously undermine American health.
“It’s part of the long-term damage that happens when you have politicians relentlessly trying to denigrate it and turn it into a political football,” he told NPR.