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Are Party Politics Really the Reason Vaccine Rates Are Stalling?

The COVID-19 vaccine has been available to most adults since April, when Joe Biden announced that 90% of American adults would be eligible to receive it. Things started out fine on the vaccine front but started significantly dropping off in the last few months.

On April 23, the government announced a pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine distribution due to some extremely rare complications that could arise from them. From that point onward, the vaccine hesitancy really kicked into overdrive and the rates never recovered.

Now, though, the pundit class points at the high number of unvaccinated and vaccine-hesitant Republicans and claim this is a partisan issue. We've been over this before, but there is more to it. Complicating matters is the constant claim that Fox News is at fault for convincing Republicans to not get vaccinated. When you look at the numbers, though, it is far less cut and dry than simply claiming Fox News and Republicans are trying to doom us all.

Looking at numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation's polling, Republicans do make up a majority of those unvaccinated. But at the same time, people of color also make up the majority of those unvaccinated. As you may recall, while Donald Trump grew his voting base among people of color in 2020, it would be very foolish to say that black and Hispanic families are now solidly Republican.

The issue is somewhat partisan, but there are several factors that make this way less about the politics of the vaccine and the status of the people who have gotten vaccinated and who have not. Simply looking at party affiliation only tells part of the story, when the rest of the story (like most issues) is far more complex than a single talking point.

When you look at the areas of the country that are vaccinated, they are largely urban. In fact, 72% of urban residents polled have gotten at least one dose, versus the 64% of suburban adults and the 54% of rural adults who have gotten at least one dose. More importantly, only 8% of urban adults say they will never get dosed, versus 15% of suburban adults and 24% of rural adults.

Urban areas tend to be more Democratic, yes, but also have higher levels of income and access to education. Except where race is concerned, where the rate of Democrats is as high or higher, but income and education are significantly lower. Likewise, while rural adults tend to be more Republican, they also tend to have lower incomes and have less access to healthcare and education.

Income and education seem to be playing a big part here. 79% of adults with a college degree have gotten at least one dose while only 59% without a degree have. The vast majority (92%) of unvaccinated workers don't believe their employer should mandate vaccines as a condition for working, while 40% of vaccinated workers feel the same way.

Statistically, yes, Republicans and Republican areas tend to be less vaccinated and more vaccine-hesitant than Democratic areas, but that is just a sliver of the information available right now. This isn't a clear-cut partisan issue, and you simply cannot blame it all on Republican politicians and Fox News.

Media outlets like NPR have reported extensively on vaccine side effects and complications. No one in the media batted an eye when Kamala Harris said she didn't trust a vaccine developed during the Trump administration, and they didn't seem to mind when the government paused the J&J vaccine over concerns that were literally a one-in-a-million shot.

What's more, they repeatedly blasted Operation: Warp Speed as a partisan longshot that would never actually work, and then downplayed the achievement the moment it turned out to be successful. It's no wonder people across the country don't trust the vaccines or the science behind them: the science has been under nonstop attack from all sides simply because of partisan affiliation.

But that's what makes this pandemic really bad. We've managed to turn it into a deeply divided partisan issue with little to no chance of actually healing over it. The virus rages on, but at least people have their talking points lined up.

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