Oh, Look, Vaccinations Rates Matter

The evidence is pretty clear: vaccinations are key, not weather (but that won't stop people from trying to say otherwise).

When a drive-by comment on a recent post from one of our less insightful commenters referenced the notion that Covid cases were increasing in some northern states, I figured that I was encountering a new right-wing media talking point (especially since it was so specific about Maine). Specifically, I suspected that the theory that problems of late with hospitalizations in southern states was a function of weather and not, as I have argued, poor policy choices by some governors (and the general anti-vaccine, anti-mitigation cues of a lot of Republican elites).

Along those lines came Indeed, Geraghty at NRO comes through with the following: Oh Look, COVID-19 Hospitalization Rates in the Northern States Are Increasing.

The piece is, I have to admit, more than a bit lazy. In the post, he notes a partial list of states ranked by growth rates of hospitalizations and number of hospitalization per 100,000, picks the top fifteen, and then says: See! They are in the north!.

Now to be clear, I have never said, nor has anyone of consequence of whom I am aware said, that there is zero seasonality to infections nor was the claim made that only southern states would get a surge (it feels like this latter point is an emerging false narrative).

I would also note that as I pointed out recently there is evidence of far more than some regional difference going on here that could be attributable to weather. Indeed, the evidence continues to be that vaccination rates are the most significant variable, which has been linked clearly to partisanship and elite cues (and elite-level policy choices).

Nonetheless, Geraghty tries to obfuscate all of this:

Some of these states have Republican governors, some of them have Democratic governors. Some of these states have big cities, and some are more rural. Some of these states enacted stricter regulations because of the pandemic, and some have looser ones. So what do all of these 15 states have in common? They’re all in the northern half of the country.

[…]

A lot of commentators seemed to relish making a moral judgment about the southern states that saw cases and hospitalizations rising dramatically in late summer. Indeed, southern states generally had lower vaccination rates, although those rates are slowly inching up, week by week.

But Geraghty, in his haste to make what he thinks is a great point, looks too much at the hospitalization growth rates and not at the actual number of people in the hospital.

So, here are the top 15 by rate of growth of hospitalizations over the last two weeks:

1Maine22%
2Pennsylvania19%
3North Dakota18%
4Montana17%
5Vermont17%
6West Virginia16%
7Minnesota11%
8Wisconsin11%
9Michigan10%
10Idaho9%
11Iowa9%
12Ohio9%
13Rhode Island8%
14New Hampshire6%
15Wyoming5%

It is further true that 19 states have increasing hospitalization rates at the moment, while the remaining states have decreasing rates. It is further true that the states that are increasing are all northern, broadly defined (although if VA is a southern state, isn’t WV also?).

That this highly contagious disease is spreading is not surprising, nor is it surprising it is spreading now that school is fully in swing (and start dates vary regionally). The real question is going to be not growth rates alone, but how many people are in the hospital and how many of those people die comparatively.

I took the top fifteen and sorted by hospitalizations per 100,000 to give us a sense of not just where growth is taking place, but how severe the pandemic is per state. I also added in the vaccination rate (source) and the share of the 2020 Trump vote in that state (source). I color-coded the states appropriately and sorted on hospitalizations per 100,000. The results should not be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention.

Weirdly, being a highly vaccinated state correlates to substantially fewer actual people in the hospital. So, yes, Maine is number 1 in increased hospitalizations over the last two weeks (+22%) and Wyoming is 15th (+5%), but Wyoming has over twice the number of persons in the hospital as adjusted for population.

Note, especially, that the highly vaccinated, very much northern states of New England have far, far better numbers in terms of actually hospitalized persons versus similar stats for lower vaccinated, also pretty northern states.

BTW, if one goes down the list of states as ranked by changes in hospitalization, one finds states in the north. Massachusetts is -14% with only 7/100,000 in the hospital (Washington and Oregon have decreasing rates as well). All “northern” and also all blue states with higher vax rates.

It is also true that a lot of southern states are seeing decreases in hospitalization, but sadly still have high numbers in the hospital (just not as high as they were). Mississippi had the biggest decrease in hospitalizations over the last two weeks (-40%) but has 25/100,000 in the hospital still. Vermont may be in the top five in increases in hospitalization but is only has 7/100,000 currently hospitalized.

Here’s the whole country by current hospitalizations/100,000 and their vote-share for Trump in 2020:

If you are playing the “look at the north game” you really need to explain the bottom eight, in particular, a lot better. For that matter, why are southern New Mexico and sunny California in the bottom 13? (And why are the bottom 13 all blue states?). Why are the top states almost all red?

What could be the difference?

Look, I understand these numbers are not all 100% comparable because the surges, peaks, and declines of the disease are not uniformly happening in all places at the same time. It will take more sophisticated analysis and more complete data to fully understand the impact of policies and yes, weather and things like the school calendar, to see how the disease spread and what helped fuel spread and what helped mitigate it. For example, it would be helpful to be able to sync up when K-12 started across all the states and see when surges began.

Having said all of that, the evidence of the role played by vaccinations seems pretty clear at the moment (and it seems incredibly unlikely that that will change). I expect, too, that we will find other mitigation policies (like masking) also were relevant.

The partisan pattern is pretty clear. A quick calculation yesterday suggested an amazingly strong negative relationship between voting for Trump and being vaccinated (which one can even eyeball–and is something that many people have already noted). Since concentration of voting for a candidate is, by definition, a geographic variable, it stands to reason that states with higher Trump votes, and therefore lower vax rates would have worse case counts, more hospitalizations, and more death. Since southern states are almost uniformly Trump-voting, this is likely why we have seen what we have seen in terms of results, not because of the weather.

Vaccination made it possible for people to opt-out of increased immunity. The people making that choice are not randomly distributed around the country. Rather, while they can exist in any given state, they are clustered in states that voted for Trump. This is because there is a clear correlation between Trump voting and lack of vaccination (for reasons I have discussed in various places). Those people are largely, but not exclusively in the south.

Ergo, the hypothesis is that weather and seasonablity are not the reasons for the hospitalizations and deaths that we have seen in the deep south over the last couple of months. Rather, it is about vaccination rates as linked to partisan politics.

Now, if different evidence emerges, I will change my position (you, because science). But, to date, the evidence is incredibly strong that vaccination prevents severe disease and death. And, unfortunately, the evidence also suggests that partisanship is a major determinant of who gets vaccinated.

Ultimately the issue is going to be how many people die based on vaccination status. Again, to date, most of the people dying are unvaccinated.

Politics and policy matter.

And people who want to divert attention away from these facts need to ask themselves why they are more interested in scoring partisan points than they are in saving the health and lives of their fellow Americans.


See, also:

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Health, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    The vaccine-resistant (to put it politely) seem to have changed their minds about the purpose of the vaccine. Now, in their minds, it was created not to implant tracking microchips or make one into a human magnet, but to either alter one’s DNA or–more recently–serve as a slow-acting poison to kill people for population control. That’s why they call it “Biden poison”–despite the fact that Trump demands credit for facilitating it.

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  2. CSK says:

    @CSK:
    Of course, since the “Biden poison” will presumably kill far more of the blue state vaxxed than the red state unvaxxed, the unvaxxed should be thrilled. But logic is not their strong suit.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    In defense of Washington States relatively high hospitalization rate compared to its vaccination rate — which no one has pointed out, yet, but sticks out to me — we do share a border with Idaho, and those fuckers keep coming over here to die because their hospital system is overwhelmed.

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  4. Argon says:

    “But, but, but Sweden!”

    Another key metric is the ratio of people infected to people hospitalized. That is heavily influenced by vaccination rates.

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  5. Argon says:

    CSK, doncha know the vaccine is being heavily promoted by liberals specifically so that conservatives will be less inclined to go along and thus get sick from the virus? That’s one hell of a 10th-dimensional chess move by liberals, eh?

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  6. CSK says:

    @Argon:
    It’s fascinating that these dimwits can’t even get their conspiracy theories to align. The latest thing (today, in fact) is to push The Conservative Tree House “statistic” that 25% of those over age 80 who received the vaccine died within 14 days thereafter.

    It must have been the vax that killed them, right? Otherwise they’d be out rollerblading.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    @CSK:

    The Conservative Tree House “statistic” that 25% of those over age 80 who received the vaccine died within 14 days thereafter.

    The elderly are well vaccinated, so we must have killed a shitload. There were 15M 80+ as of 2010, so with high vaccination rates, that’s 3M dead people, just in the over 80 crowd. Assume the 65-79 crowd dies as lesser but substantial rates, and were talking… 6M?

    How do we hide all those bodies?

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  8. jehrler says:

    Both Geraghty and the unnamed commentator should be embarrassed using changes in hospitalization rates to *compare* states. It is fine to use if you want to see trends within a state but incredibly problematic as a method of comparing two states.

    I mean, seriously, say there are two states, Bluetopia and Redtopia each with 10 million people. Redtopia last week had a 50% drop in its hospitalization rate while Bluetopia had a 100% increase.

    Seems clear that the libtards are screwing it up, right?

    No.

    Redtopia went from 10 million hospitalized to 5 million while Bluetopia went from a single person to two people.

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  9. CSK says:

    @Gustopher:
    Maybe the globalists have figured out a way to harvest adenochrome from the corpses. Yes, yes, I know that adenochrome is best when retrieved from children in pizza parlors by Hillary Clinton, but never underestimate the harvesting capabilities of the Deep State.

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  10. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Steven, I am glad that you had the mental capacity to put this together. When I saw those comments yet, I lacked the ability to respond thoughtfully and therefore said nothing.

    Of course hospitalizations rates are increasing more in Maine than in Texas. Every ICU in my region of Texas has been full for the roughly six weeks! How can you go higher than 100%?!?!?

    Moreover, I came to those comments just after seeing the latest numbers for my county. We’ve had ~350 reported deaths total, and more than 50 of them have been in the last month – our deadliest month so far. Just in past two weeks, we’ve had days with 4 or 6 or 8 people passing, whereas we had one or two weekly deaths.

    I think I’m at peak compassion fatigue, and I can no longer react with anything other than my lizard brain to people like that commenter.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Good point on the sharing a border with Idaho. Some might note that Oregon also shares a border with Idaho, but the difference is that no one lives in eastern Oregon whereas eastern Washington has the second largest city in the state in Spokane. (It’s where the phrase “inland empire” comes from.)
    […]

    (although if VA is a southern state, isn’t WV also?).

    Doesn’t WV get a pass on being a southern state for seceding from VA during the Civil War? Just like now, VA is starting to get a pass from being part of ol’ Dixie because it fairly routinely elects people with “D” after their name on the ballot.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: “How do we hide all those bodies?”

    Are Soylent Green processing plants being built anywhere?

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    How do we hide all those bodies?

    In the basement of Comet Ping Pong Pizza. All six million in a non-existent basement. This stuff doesn’t have to make sense.

    A few days ago we were talking about the value of math. There is value in being able to do a quick back-of-the-envelope estimate as you just did. Right after you said, “25% of vaxxed over 80!? That can’t be right.” A skill apparently lacking in readers of “Conservative Treehouse”.

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  14. gVOR08 says:

    @jehrler:

    Redtopia went from 10 million hospitalized to 5 million while Bluetopia went from a single person to two people.

    A month or so ago the big claim in the RW blogosphere was that vaccines were useless because almost all the COVID deaths in Israel were among the vaxxed. It left out that almost everyone in Israel was vaccinated and that the death rate at the time was like 5 – per week. See my comment @gVOR08: above. Math, what’s that about?

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  15. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08: There’s also the danger in back of the envelope calculations being wildly wrong, of course. And then being too firm in one’s beliefs that the back of the envelope is trusted more than experts.

    My brother falls for that all the time (along with not understanding exponential growth).

    The real skill is being able to do a back of the envelope calculation and then asking the question “what do I have wrong?” when it’s wildly off. (Here, the discrepancy is explained by the Conservative Treehouse being batshit insane).

    Of course, this has also led to me not believing in dark matter and dark energy. “Pfft! So most of the universe consists of matter and energy that cannot be observed? What kind of bullshit are you pulling? You’re clearly just missing something in your models!”

    When we have dark matter vaccines, this will become a problem. Hopefully, by then, we will have better evidence for dark matter. In the meantime, it’s purely academic.

    (It’s possible that the models that require the vast majority of the universe to be not-directly-unobservable are accurate, but every other time the observations don’t match the models, we have found the models to be wrong. It’s like that episode of ST:TNG where Dr. Crusher says “if there’s nothing wrong with me, there must be something wrong with the universe”… she was right, but it’s an insane leap to make with any confidence)

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  16. de stijl says:

    @Gustopher:

    Black FEMA burn sites, obviously.

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  17. wr says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: “How can you go higher than 100%?!?!?”

    But this goes to eleven…

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  18. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    If conspiracy theory nuts accepted evidence or logic, they wouldn’t be conspiracy theory nuts.

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  19. Tony W says:

    Here’s a great visualization of the situation

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  20. JohnMcC says:

    For several weeks had an on-going debate via text with my RWNJ sisters. It is impossible to keep someone on-topic if they simply refuse to see what is at the other end of their nose. The big issue that is much more important than the hundreds of thousands who are needlessly at-risk changes day to day. Today the horrid Biden Admin is hoarding monoclonal antibodies (the actual data was instantly available via Mr Google’s marvel). Yesterday it was the 20,000 unvaccinated Haitians released all over the country (which would imply that Haitian refugees were flocking to red counties all over America — which seems…counter-intuitive). It goes on and on and if necessary false data is clutched like teddy bear (TX has vaccination rate 70%).

    This lady has a PhD. And she insists on believing and seeing delusions. And it is really ‘her’ people (she’s moved to TX and is a retriever-trial activist) who are dying.

    I’m completely flummoxed.

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