By Julene Reese
Two new studies from the Western Rural Development Center (WRDC) based at Utah State University show a connection between political views, vaccination levels, and COVID-19 per capita cases and deaths.
“Politics and the Spread of COVID-19 in the United States,” published in the Medical Research Archives, and “Vaccination, Politics and COVID-19 Impacts,” published in BMC Public Health, shed light on political views being strongly related to vaccination rates and how they affect COVID-19 cases and deaths.
Don Albrecht, author of the studies and executive director of the WRDC, said earlier research has been conducted, but these studies examine more recent data and include information on the impacts of vaccination.
He said the research is relevant to shed light on the fact that science denial and failing to abide by medical best practices has critical consequences and has resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths.
Albrecht’s research in Medical Research Archives reports that the relationship between political views and COVID-19 death rates was especially strong after vaccines were available to the general public. After March 1, 2021, the per capita COVID-19 death rate in counties where President Donald Trump received more than 75 percent of the vote was more than three times higher than in counties where he received less than 25 percent.
“Results from this study indicate that those in Trump-supporting counties were less likely to follow the advice of health experts, including wearing masks, social distancing and getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” he said. “The consequences were severe as the virus spread and death rates increased.”
His research in BMC Public Health includes a statistical model that was developed and tested to explore the impacts of political views on vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 residents in U.S. counties.
“These data strongly supported the model,” he said. “In counties with a high percentage of Republican voters, vaccination rates were significantly lower, and COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 residents were much higher.”
Albrecht said that because Republican political and thought leaders often downplayed the virus and did not encourage vaccination, Republican-leaning counties have been less likely to implement safety measures or encourage residents’ vaccination, and as a consequence, suffered higher COVID-19 cases and death rates.
“To successfully address these issues, it is critical that experts are able to effectively communicate scientifically sound information to the general public and that policy makers use the best information available to develop policy,” he said. “Moving forward, it is crucial to find ways to overcome political division and rebuild trust in science and health professionals.”