(Headline USA) As a pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine appeared to validate concerns over the safety of the coronavirus vaccine, southern states in the heart of MAGA country have led the way in resistance, despite former president Donald Trump’s support for them.
Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is credited with having delivered on the Republican leader’s promise to effect a quick end to the Chinese-borne respiratory virus.
Nonetheless, months of leftist alarmism that seemed to overhype the threat and present inconsistent conclusions, contrary to the evidence, as definitive science, have taken their toll on the credibility of once nonpartisan institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and World Health Organization.
Despite the devastating toll that the pandemic took on human life and lifestyles, many remain skeptical that the risk applies equally to all. Evidence has suggested, for example, that children are less of a transmission risk, while some 40% of mortalities have stemmed from nursing homes.
With many cases estimated to be asymptomatic or limited in their impact on healthy individuals without specific risk factors, many also support the idea that by contracting it, one can develop the antibodies in ways less risky than the still un-tested vaccines.
Finally, as woke corporate culture takes root—including among the pharmaceutical industry and other health-related fields, a lingering distrust remains over the possibility that by reprogramming genetic codes the vaccines may result in other unwelcome, unforeseen side effects.
“The way I feel about it is: I don’t need the vaccine at this point,” said Laura Biggs of Front Royal, Virginia. “And I’m not going to get the vaccine until it is well established.”
With coronavirus shots now in the arms of nearly half of American adults, the parts of the U.S. that are excelling and those that are struggling with vaccinations are starting to look like the nation’s political map: deeply divided between red and blue states.
Out in front is New Hampshire, where 65% of the population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC. Following close behind are New Mexico, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts at 55% or greater. All have a history of voting Democratic and supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Meanwhile, five states remain where fewer than 40% have rolled up their sleeves for a shot. Four of them—Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee—lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall. The fifth is Georgia, which has a Republican governor and supported GOP presidential candidates. Questions linger over the validity of its recent election results, which delivered victories to Biden and to radical leftist senators.
“We can draw a conclusion that red states and voters that voted for Trump are going to be more difficult to vaccinate because we have real good survey data to support that,” said Dr. Howard Forman, a professor of public health and management at the Yale School of Medicine.
A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in late March found that 36% of Republicans said they will probably or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with 12% of Democrats.
Similarly, a third of rural Americans said they were leaning against getting shots, while fewer than a fourth of people living in cities and suburbs shared that hesitancy.
The logic holds true as evidence has shown the impact of the virus to be far greater in high-density urban areas, where politics also tend to be far more to the Left.
Meanwhile, states like Florida, with a warm climate and strong outdoor culture, have kept their death rate to only about 0.16% of the population, the same as the seasonable flu.
Forman cautioned that in most U.S. states, which receive vaccine shipments based on population, demand for the shot still exceeds supply. Thus, it’s hard to know how many people are resisting until everyone wanting the shots gets them.
But if states soon start seeing significant numbers of unfilled appointments with many people still unvaccinated, he said consequences could be serious.
“We could see substantial outbreaks for a long time,” Forman claimed. “It will determine whether we go back to normal in some cases.”
Past AP-NORC polls have shown more Republicans than Democrats say the government has exaggerated the threat posed by the virus. Republicans have also been more opposed to restrictions and mask-wearing.
The CDC reports that nearly 121 million American adults—or 47% of the U.S. adult population—have received at least one coronavirus shot. California, the nation’s largest blue state, is slightly ahead of that pace, at 50%. The biggest red state, Texas, lags at less than 44%.
How swiftly states are vaccinating doesn’t always correlate with how they vote.
Deeply red South Dakota ranks among the most prodigious states in terms of vaccination rates, with 54% of its population getting injections.
Among blue states, Nevada lags furthest behind the U.S. at less than 44%, followed by Oregon and Michigan at 45% each.
The Democratic governor of Kentucky, a Trump-voting state, is trying to bribe residents with promises to restore their civil liberties by lifting pandemic restrictions when vaccination rates improve.
About 1.6 million people in Kentucky have gotten at least one dose, a rate equal to the U.S. overall.
Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday he’ll lift capacity restrictions on restaurants, retail stores, concert halls and other businesses once Kentucky reaches 2.5 million people who have had shots.
“Every single individual’s choices can get us closer to that normalcy we’ve been looking for,” Beshear said.
It is unclear, though, how such an arrangement follows either the science or the law behind the lockdowns.
West Virginia, where Trump carried 66% of the vote last year, became an early success story in the vaccine rollout as the first U.S. state to cover all nursing homes.
And while Republican Gov. Jim Justice has remained a vaccine cheerleader, West Virginia now lags the U.S. overall with less than 42% of its population having received at least one dose.
Among those who say they won’t get vaccinated is 58-year-old Martha Brown. Sitting outside her apartment complex in Charleston, West Virginia, Brown said she’s afraid of having a bad reaction after a flu shot last year left her with cold symptoms.
“I’m OK without it,” Brown said. “I wear my mask all the time.”
Experts said it’s too soon to tell whether pausing shots of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will increase reluctance to get vaccinated. Government scientists are investigating reports of unusual blood clots in six women who received the vaccine.
However, Trump criticized the move, hinting that the Biden administration may have had ulterior motives and vested interests in smearing the one-shot newcomer.
“The results of this vaccine have been extraordinary but now its reputation will be permanently challenged,” Trump said. “The people who have already taken the vaccine will be up in arms, and perhaps all of this was done for politics or perhaps it’s the FDA’s love for Pfizer.”
Still, if the issue gets resolved quickly and it’s deemed safe to resume Johnson & Johnson shots, there should be little impact on public confidence, said Claire Hannan, executive director of the Association of Immunization Managers. She hopes the response itself assures people “the system is working.”
“It’s really important to understand that’s how closely we monitor everyone getting the vaccine” for potential problems, Hannan said. “We have systems in place to connect the dots.”
In a suburb outside Chicago, Jennifer Rockwood was getting ready to drive an hour to get her Johnson & Johnson shot Tuesday morning when she heard about the recommended pause. She cancelled her appointment after waiting months to get the vaccine.
“Did it give me hesitancy? Yes it did,” said Rockwood, 49. “But I was immediately back at my kitchen counter flipping the laptop open again and seeing what I could do to schedule another one.”
She booked an appointment to get the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press