The development of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines provides a clear path to bring the pandemic to an end. Vaccination rates, however, have been insufficient to prevent disease spread. A critical factor in so many people choosing not to be vaccinated is their political views. In this study, a path model is developed and tested to explore the impacts of political views on vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 residents in U.S. counties. The data strongly supported the model. In counties with a high percentage of Republican voters, vaccination rates were significantly lower and COVID-19 cases and deaths per 100,000 residents were much higher. Moving forward, it is critical to find ways to overcome political division and rebuild trust in science and health professionals.
From the article:
Despite the obvious fact that vaccines save lives and reduce human suffering , there has been opposition to vaccination since the time of Jenner . This opposition has become more organized and vibrant in recent years, with help from the Internet and social media [30, 36]. A critical event was an article published in 1998 that purported a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine and autism. Later it was found that the research was faulty and the article was retracted in 2010. The damage, however, had been done and a strong “anti-vax” movement was growing throughout the world. The movement was greatly enhanced by tweets from Donald Trump both before his election and after he became president . The consequences are profound, and vaccination rates have been declining around the world .
Conservative opposition to vaccines was enhanced by the support of Donald Trump. Over the years, Trump has sent many tweets with anti-vax and pro-conspiracy theory themes. For example, in 2014 he tweeted, “Healthy young child goes to doctor, gets pumped with massive shot of many vaccines, doesn’t feel good and changes – AUTISM. Many such cases.” On September 2, 2015 he tweeted, “I am being proven right about massive vaccinations – the doctors lied. Save our children and their futures!” A study by Hornsey et al.  found that these statements had an effect and that Trump voters were more likely to express vaccine hesitancy, distrust medical authorities, and believe conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.
Beyond the president, other political leaders and media outlets sent divergent messages on COVID-19. Again, Republicans and the right-wing media tended to downplay the threat of the disease and express opposition to steps intended to prevent spread . Fridman et al.  found a critical factor in vaccine resistance was exposure to right-wing media. With support from Republican leaders and the right-wing media, protests were held throughout the country in opposition to mask mandates, business and school closures, and vaccination mandates. In many communities, wearing a mask or getting a vaccine became a political statement, with many Republicans arguing that these actions violated their individual freedoms and were unnecessary anyway. The consequence was increased levels of virus spread in Republican-dominated counties. A study from early in the pandemic found that counties where Trump received a higher proportion of the vote were initially safer from the virus, but this changed as the pandemic progressed, and these counties then experienced severe impacts . Research shows that a likely reason for the initial safety of Trump-leaning counties from the disease is that they tend to be more rural where people are naturally social distanced and less likely to be reliant on mass transit, conditions which enhance virus spread . This same study found a positive relationship between the percent voting for Trump in a county and the severity of the pandemic in that county. In this study, we expect an inverse relationship between the percent voting for Trump and vaccination rates. Lower vaccination rates are expected to lead to higher rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths.