As covid vaccines started to roll out in February 2021, misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the shot were on the rise—as were the deaths of Republican voters.
A new study from Yale University looked at 538,159 people in Ohio and Florida starting on May 1, 2021, and focused on counties that reported lower vaccination rates. In the first year of the pandemic, the number of covid-related deaths was evenly dispersed among both Democrats and Republicans, but that quickly changed within a month after the vaccine became available to all U.S. adults.
The study found the “excess mortality was significantly higher for Republican voters than Democratic voters after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults, but not before,” noting that the death rate for Republican voters was 43% higher than for Democratic voters after the vaccine was widely available. However, the study notes that the data did not include whether the individual was vaccinated or if their deaths were directly linked to covid-19, but researchers looked at the divide in political party-affiliated deaths between January 2018 and December 2021 and compared the pre-pandemic death rate to deaths recorded post-Covid vaccine.
“We’re not saying that if you took someone’s political party affiliation and were to change it from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party that they would be more likely to die from covid-19,” the study’s lead researcher Jacob Wallace told The Wall Street Journal.
This study is not the first to reflect an increase in deaths following the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine, with KFF estimating in April of last year that at least 234,000 Covid deaths recorded between June 2021 and March 2022 could have been prevented if the individuals had received the vaccine. “These findings suggest that differences in vaccination attitudes and reported uptake between Republican and Democratic voters may have been factors in the severity and trajectory of the pandemic in the US,” the study says.
The higher rate of Republican deaths has been widely attributed to misinformation and mistrust in official sources of information surrounding both the vaccine and the pandemic. Liz Hamel, the vice president of public opinion and survey research at the Kaiser Family Foundation told NPR in 2021, “An unvaccinated person is three times as likely to lean Republican as they are to lean Democrat.” The NPR analysis found that people in counties that primarily voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election were three times as likely to die from covid-19 compared with those living in counties that leaned toward President Joe Biden.
Despite Wallace and his team’s findings, Florida Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis continues to claim that Florida got it right when it came to its handling of the pandemic and filed a petition to investigate vaccine makers for fraud. He filed the petition to the Florida Supreme Court in December, alleging conspiracies about the scientific evidence that the vaccine is resistant to new variants. “It is impossible to imagine that so many influential individuals came to this view on their own,” he wrote. “Rather, it is likely that individuals and companies with an incentive to do so created these perceptions for financial gain.”
The rise in misinformation about Covid vaccines is still affecting the number of people who believe it is safe, with only 49% of Republicans reporting they are “very” or “somewhat” confident in the vaccine versus 88% of Democrats, according to a March study conducted by Stephen Neely at the University of South Florida.
Speaking on the Yale study, Neely told The Post the findings were important because they shed light on how a response to the Covid vaccine has shaped how the death toll played out. “It’s one of the most telling metrics I’ve seen in how the politicization of the pandemic has played out in the real world,” he said.