The Morning Jolt

Health Care

A Misleading Narrative about the Unvaccinated

A volunteer is injected with a vaccine as he participates in a coronavirus vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Fla., September 24, 2020. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

On the menu today: A new study finds that blacks and Hispanics remain less likely than their white counterparts to have received a vaccine, which complicates the convenient narrative that the COVID-19 pandemic continues because of stubborn, white, anti-vaccine Trump Republicans; CNN accuses Republicans of wanting to hurt children; Biden issues the weakest possible threat to the Taliban; and a hard lesson about the #MeToo movement.

America’s Unvaccinated Minority Groups

You don’t have to look far on social media to find people contending that the remaining unvaccinated are overwhelmingly Republicans, and that the reason the COVID-19 pandemic is still a factor in American life is irresponsible, stubborn Trump voters. Never mind that the New York Times did a good, thorough piece on August 1, laying out that the remaining unvaccinated people are not politically or culturally monolithic. Four days after this newsletter pointed out that America’s largest cities had significant percentages of the unvaccinated — well beyond the percentages that voted for Trump in the past election — the Times realized this as well and shared that fact with readers:

Part of the challenge is that the unvaccinated live in communities dotted throughout the United States, in both lightly and densely populated counties. Though some states like Missouri and Arkansas have significantly lagged the nation in vaccination rates, unvaccinated Americans are, to varying degrees, everywhere: In Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, 51 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. Los Angeles County is barely higher, at 53 percent. In Wake County, N.C., part of the liberal, high-tech Research Triangle area, the vaccination rate is 55 percent.

One less-discussed aspect of the remaining unvaccinated population is that the 2.5 million unvaccinated people in a place such as Los Angeles County are at considerably greater risk than those residing in, say, Smith County, Miss., which has one of the lowest partial-vaccination rates (27 percent have received at least one shot) of any county in the state with the lowest partial-vaccination rate in the country. Los Angeles County has 2,344 people per square mile, while Smith County has 26 people per square mile; city residents are just going to encounter more potentially infected and contagious people during their day.

Last week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new study that didn’t get a lot of attention, probably because it didn’t fit the preexisting narrative: “While White adults account for the largest share (57 percent) of unvaccinated adults, Black and Hispanic people remain less likely than their White counterparts to have received a vaccine, leaving them at increased risk, particularly as the variant spreads.” (A bit more than 60 percent of Americans are classified in the census as white alone; 18.5 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 13.4 percent are Black, and about 6 percent are Asian.) The study continues:

As observed in prior weeks, Black and Hispanic people have received smaller shares of vaccinations compared to their shares of cases and compared to their shares of the total population in most states. The share of vaccinations received by Black people also continues to be smaller than their share of deaths in most states, although in some states it is similar to the share of deaths. The share of vaccinations received by Hispanic people is similar to or higher than their share of deaths in most reporting states, although in some states it continues to be lower. For example, in California, 30 percent of vaccinations have gone to Hispanic people, while they account for 63 percent of cases, 48 percent of deaths, and 40 percent of the total population in the state. Similarly, in the District of Columbia, Black people have received 43 percent of vaccinations, while they make up 56 percent of cases, 71 percent of deaths, and 46 percent of the total population. The size of these differences varies across states. The number of states where the shares of vaccinations received by Black and Hispanic people are more proportionate to their shares of the total population and/or their shares of cases or deaths in the state has grown over time.

As uncomfortable as this may make some people, if the U.S. vaccination effort in 2021 is considered a failure, it is so in considerable part because of a failure to convince members of minority groups to get vaccinated. The KFF study noted that:

As of August 2, less than half of Black and Hispanic people have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in the vast majority of states reporting data. The vaccination rate for Black people is less than 50 percent in 38 of 42 reporting states, including 7 states where less than a third of Black people have received one or more doses. Similarly, less than half of Hispanic people have received a COVID-19 vaccine dose in 32 of 40 reporting states, including 9 states where less than a third have received at least one dose.

Right now, the four states that are getting hit the hardest by the Delta variant are Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. According to KFF’s data, the somewhat good news is that three of these states are seeing a surge in vaccinations — in some cases, across all ethnic lines:

Louisiana, which had the highest daily cases per million, had some of the largest percentage point vaccination rate increases across racial ethnic groups. Similarly, Mississippi had the second largest percentage point increase in the vaccination rate for Black people (3.1 percentage points from 35.6 percent to 38.7 percent), the third largest percentage point increase for White people (2.0 percentage points from 35.6 percent to 37.7 percent), and the fourth largest for Asian people (2.4 percentage points from 72.2 percent to 74.7 percent). Florida had the sixth largest increase in vaccination rates for White and Hispanic people and the ninth largest increase in the vaccination rate for Black people. Arkansas does not publicly report vaccination data by race/ethnicity.

The most commonly offered explanation for vaccine reluctance among blacks is the Tuskegee Experiment, although some dispute that explanation, and contend that black distrust of doctors and the medical community stems from much more recent negative experiences. From a February KQED article:

Those who don’t want the vaccine have very modern reasons for not wanting it. They tell Toler it’s because of religious beliefs, safety concerns or distrust for the former U.S. president and his relationship to science. Only a handful mention Tuskegee, she says, and when they do, they’re fuzzy on the details of what happened during the 40-year study.

The study was exposed and shut down in 1972, nearly 50 years ago. But for those who do cite Tuskegee as a reason to not get a COVID-19 vaccine, there seems to be an odd reluctance by national leaders to tell these skeptics the obvious: “The national vaccination effort against COVID-19 is not the Tuskegee Experiment all over again. This is part of a global effort to save every life we can, by ensuring that as many people as possible have antibodies to fight off the virus. Members of every ethnic group are dying from this virus, including yours. The vaccine works for every ethnic group, including yours. This is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones.”

We should keep in mind that some people simply don’t want to be persuaded, and that these people come in every color, from every walk of life. Back in June, the Washington Football Team brought in “Kizzmekia S. Corbett, an immunologist and leading coronavirus vaccine researcher, to speak to players and coaches via video conference . . . to provide general information about the vaccines, answer questions and dispel any inaccuracies they might have heard.” Corbett is “the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center.” She recently joined Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health to continue vaccine-development research. She may well be the single most qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced person on Earth to answer anyone’s questions about the vaccine.

And yet somehow Washington defensive end Montez Sweat came away unimpressed. “I’m not a fan of [the vaccine],” Sweat said after listening to Corbett. “I probably won’t get vaccinated until I get more facts and that stuff. I’m not a fan of it at all. I haven’t caught COVID yet, so I don’t see me treating COVID until I actually get COVID.”

The notion that the remaining unvaccinated are “anti-science” Trump voters is reassuring to national media voices who prefer to believe all good things emanate from the Democratic Party and all bad things emanate from the GOP. Otherwise, they might have to criticize members of minority groups for holding out on getting vaccinated, and they’re just not comfortable doing that.

CNN: Ron DeSantis Is Trying to Kill Your Child

This morning, for what feels like the tenth day in a row, the lead story on CNN’s home page is a variation of “Florida governor Ron DeSantis is the devil.” Today, the headline on the home page is, “DeSantis feuds with school districts over school mask mandates,” although the headline when you click through is, “Kids are the victims of new GOP bid to politicize the pandemic.” Just think, the Democratic National Committee didn’t have to pay a dime for any of that.

Biden Threatens the Taliban with . . . a Lack of International Approval

Does anyone know what our Afghanistan policy is?

AP: “A U.S. peace envoy brought a warning to the Taliban on Tuesday that any government that comes to power through force in Afghanistan won’t be recognized internationally after a series of cities fell to the insurgent group in stunningly quick succession.”

They’re the Taliban. They throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls, deny women the ability to leave home without an escort, and execute enemy fighters who surrender. Do you think they really care about international recognition?

ADDENDUM: The fact that the chairwoman of Time’s Up and the co-founder of its legal-defense fund was one of several prominent figures found to be involved in an effort to discredit one of Andrew Cuomo’s alleged victims doesn’t mean that every seemingly noble or righteous cause is a cynical, hypocritical racket in disguise. But it does reinforce the hard lesson that every seemingly noble or righteous cause will attract those who see that cause as an opportunity to run a cynical, hypocritical racket.

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