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Data Show Far Right Media Could Be Fueling Growing Partisan Vaccination Gap

The vaccination gap between counties that voted for Trump versus those that went for Biden is a stark 11.7 percent.

Doctor Scott Harris, Alabama's State Health Officer, discusses his state's vaccination data in his office on June 29, 2021, in Montgomery, Alabama.

A new analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) shows that the Republican-Democrat divide in COVID vaccination rates is stark — and growing.

In April, according to the analysis, counties that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 election had a 20.6 percent vaccination rate while counties that voted for Joe Biden had a 22.8 percent vaccination rate. By May, the red counties had a 28.5 percent rate of vaccination while the blue counties had a 35.0 percent rate.

And on July 6, KFF found, counties that went for Trump had a vaccination rate of 35.0 percent while those that went for Biden had a rate of 46.7 percent. The percentage gap between counties that voted Republican versus Democrat, in other words, rose from 2.2 percent to 11.7 percent in just over 10 weeks.

“These findings show a widening divide of communities at risk for COVID-19 along partisan lines,” wrote KFF.

One way to convince more Republicans to trust getting vaccinated, KFF wrote, could be to encourage doctors and employers to provide information on the vaccines. Republicans trust these sources over government officials, previous polling from KFF has found.

“Going forward, efforts that focus on these messengers, including President Biden’s recent announcement to augment vaccination distribution through doctor’s offices, may help,” KFF wrote, “but there is a hardcore group of vaccine resisters who are disproportionately Republican and will be difficult to move.”

The analysis comes as vaccination rates are slowing and the nation failed to hit Biden’s goal of delivering a first dose to 70 percent of adults by the Fourth of July — by 3 percent. The slowdown occurred despite the fact that the vaccines have been shown so far to be incredibly effective at preventing hospitalization and death; as the CDC recently announced, 99.5 percent of the people who died due to COVID over the past months were unvaccinated.

KFF concluded that partisanship is “one of the main factors” driving vaccine hesitancy. According to the new analysis and other recent research, the people most likely to be unvaccinated according to research published in June from KFF are Republicans, people without health insurance and people of color, among other groups.

But reporting suggests that people without health insurance are afraid that they’ll be billed for receiving the vaccine — and, indeed, some people have reported receiving a bill for getting their shot despite the fact that it’s supposed to be free to the public. Lower vaccination rates for people of color, meanwhile, are more likely attributed to issues of unequal access than more widespread attitudes of vaccine hesitancy.

Other research suggests that media sources are shaping their listeners’ decisions on this crucial public health measure. A March survey of 5,149 adults in the U.S. by the Public Religion Research Institute and Interfaith Youth Core found that the media that a particular conservative consumes may play a role in determining whether or not they’re choosing to receive a vaccine or not.

While 54 percent of Republicans who reported trusting Fox News in the survey said they’d already received a COVID vaccine or planned to get one, only 32 percent of Republicans who said they trust more extremist right-wing networks like One America News Network (OANN) or Newsmax said they’d do the same.

The same survey found that Fox News, which is already extremist in its own right, has been falling in popularity among the right. Meanwhile, the survey finds, even more extremist outlets are taking its place.

Right-wing outlets have spent the last few months helping to spread vaccine disinformation as some Republican leaders have argued against widespread vaccinations — and as many Republicans in Congress refuse to get the vaccines themselves. While Fox has spread its own vaccine conspiracies, outlets like OANN tend to be more aggressive and more pervasive in their conspiracy-spreading. The latter outlet was banned last year from YouTube, for instance, for boasting fake cures for the virus.

Meanwhile, Trump likely played a central role in spreading vaccine disinformation. A study published earlier this year in PLOS One found that, before the former president was banned from Twitter and other major social media networks, he was the largest driver of false information on vaccines on Twitter.

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