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COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States began on December 14, 2020. Photo credit: Navy Medicine / Flickr

A new study examines excess mortality in Florida and Ohio before and after adults could get vaccinated. 

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In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus indiscriminately killed Americans regardless of their party affiliation. However, according to new research, that changed once vaccines became widely available. At that time, Republicans, who were being fed a steady diet of misinformation on the known risks and benefits of these vaccines, began dying at a significantly higher rate. 

The study, conducted by researchers of the Yale School of Public Health and published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Internal Medicine, investigated excess mortality in Florida and Ohio before and after adults could get vaccinated. 

Excess mortality refers to the number of deaths above those that could be statistically expected. It is a parameter used to estimate how many people died from a major event such as a pandemic or a climate emergency like the current heatwave in the US. 

In the case of COVID-19, excess mortality spiked everywhere in the early stages of the pandemic when more lethal versions of the virus spread and the main form of protection against them was isolation. At that time, the researchers did not detect a difference in excess deaths between Republicans and Democrats. 

Then, however, humanity developed a new line of defense against the virus: vaccines. When those became widely available, the paths of Democrats and Republicans diverged. 

The excess deaths of Democrats, who were more likely to get vaccinated, dropped more sharply than those of Republicans, among whom vaccine hesitancy was more prevalent. 

The reason why many conservatives were so distrustful of the vaccines and their benefits was that right-wing news outlets like Fox News promoted an opposing view and told their viewers that the vaccines themselves might be responsible for more deaths. 

This caused fewer of them to get vaccinated. One study showed that watching an additional hour of Fox News reduced the number of vaccinations in a household by 0.35 to 0.76 per 100 people. 

The new research now illustrates how right-wing news outlets killed their own viewers with this rhetoric. 

It shows that after all Floridians and Ohioans became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccines in the spring of 2021, the excess death rates of Democrats dropped much more quickly than those of Republicans. Overall, that rate was 43 percent higher among conservatives. 

The researchers primarily observed this phenomenon in counties with low vaccination rates, and it was more pronounced in Ohio than in Florida, where the rate remained similar. 

The authors of the study note that more than 50 million Americans have still not completed the first series of vaccination and are therefore at a much higher risk of hospitalization and death from the virus. 

In order to decrease the number of unvaccinated and under-vaccinated Americans, they believe that a message tailored especially to conservatives would be helpful. 

Specifically, the authors suggest getting conservative and Republican leaders involved in an effort to increase vaccination rates. 


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