Bruce Murphy
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State Ground Zero for Vaccine Hesitancy?

Wisconsin trails 20 states in percent vaccinated. Hesitancy could prolong pandemic.

By - Jun 7th, 2021 01:22 pm
Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. photo by Lisa Ferdinando. U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. photo by Lisa Ferdinando. U.S. Secretary of Defense, (CC BY 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to dispensing the supply of COVID-19 vaccines provided by the federal government, Wisconsin was the leading state in the nation. But over time the issue became not state government efficiency, but the culture of the state. And Wisconsin’s population is more vaccine resistant than in many states.

In Vermont, the national leader, 82% of adults have had at least one COVID-19 shot. Hawaii has hit 81%, Massachusetts 79% and Connecticut 76%, according to a New York Times analysis. By contrast, only 63% of adults have had at least one shot in Wisconsin.

That might sound bad, but is far ahead of last place Mississippi, at 44%, followed by Alabama and Louisiana at 46% and Wyoming at 47%.

Readers may recognize the clear pattern here: heavily Democratic blue states have the highest percent vaccinated and heavily Republican red states have the lowest percentage. Polls have shown that 20% of Republicans would “definitely not” get vaccinated, compared to 4% of Democrats.

And swing-state Wisconsin, still purple after all these years, is exactly average. Nationally, 63% of all adults have had at least one shot, the same percentage as in Wisconsin.

Noting its average ranking, The Guardian called Wisconsin “ground zero of America’s battle against vaccine hesitancy,” and noted the wild variance by county, with 65% of Dane County adults getting at least one shot, compared to just 23.5% in Taylor County, a rural area in north-central Wisconsin just west of Wausau. Mike Wagner, political science professor at the UW-Madison, did a survey of 500 adults in the state which showed “that rural residents, Republicans and those who believe the election was stolen from Trump were most likely to be skeptical of the vaccine.”

Nationally the variance is even greater by county: In Massachusetts the top county has hit 86% vaccinated, while in Louisiana, less than 20% of people in some parishes have received a first dose.

All of which means the nation has a long way to go to be fully safe from COVID-19 and its variants. President Joe Biden has targeted July 4 as the date by which 70 percent of all adults will have had at least one vaccine shot, but at their current rate of progress, at least 30 states will fall short, the Time analysis predicts. That includes Wisconsin, the bellwether of the U.S., which is projected to hit just 67% vaccinated by Independence Day.

But that’s far better than in Mississippi and Alabama, which are projected to take more than a year to hit the 70% target.

The pattern of resistance to getting vaccinated has prevailed in southern states for a decade or more, the Times found. The Deep South was similarly resistant to the 2019-20 flu vaccine and the 2009-10 H1N1 vaccine.

But in states like Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa, one can see how the conservative anti-vaccine campaign has changed minds. All three states ranked above the national average in percent getting the 2019-20 flu vaccine, but below the national average for the COVID-19 vaccine. And the governors in all three states opposed mask mandates.

The wide variety by state and county in COVID-19 vaccine rates suggests there could pockets of the country and perhaps entire regions where the U.S. won’t reach herd immunity until a year from now, if ever. That is likely to prolong the pandemic, and give COVID-19 variants more of a chance to spread and infect Americans.

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