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Monday, October 3, 2022

Vaccine Polarization

 In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

UnfortunatelyRepublican politicians and conservative media figures are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers.   Even before COVID, they were fighting vaccine mandates and other public health measures.

A decade ago, there was significant vaccine resistance in liberal enclaves. California's wealthy Marin County was once an example of left-wing antivax sentiment.At NYT, Soumya Karlamangla reports that things have changed.
In the pandemic age, getting a Covid-19 shot has become the defining “vax” or “anti-vax” litmus test, and on that account, Marin County has embraced vaccines at rates that surpass the vast majority of communities in the nation. It comes after public health efforts to change parents’ opinions, as well as a strict state mandate that students get vaccinated for childhood diseases.

And as the nation has grown more polarized, Marin residents are less comfortable wearing the “anti-vax” label increasingly associated with conservatives. Americans who identify as Democrats are more than twice as likely to be vaccinated and boosted against Covid — and Marin County is one of the bluest enclaves in America.

Dr. [Matt] Willis left the C.D.C. and in 2013 took over as Marin County’s health officer, and he was intent on figuring out why relatively few parents were vaccinating their children.

He surveyed the parents of thousands of kindergartners to understand what their vaccine concerns were. On the list were autism, ingredients in vaccines and the speed at which babies are administered dozens of shots. A 1998 study that purported to connect the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine with autism was debunked and retracted — but only after propelling the anti-vaccine movement, particularly among parents skeptical of traditional medicine and pharmaceutical companies.
Dr. Willis began public health campaigns to specifically address those fears and primed local pediatricians to have those conversations too. His efforts got a boost when, in late 2014, a measles outbreak erupted at Disneyland, drawing greater attention to unvaccinated children. When cases spread to Marin County, its low vaccination rates became a glaring example in California.

The anti-vaccine movement used to be a place where the left met the right, but increased polarization during the pandemic has made such a combination difficult to sustain, said Jennifer Reich, sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver and the author of “Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines.”

“When we start to see such vastly different sources of information about what the risks of infection of Covid are, you start to see people making wildly different decisions in their life,” Ms. Reich said. “The vaccine and scientific expertise has become politicized.”

Jacob Wallace, Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham & Jason L. Schwartz, "Excess Death Rates for Republicans and Democrats During the COVID-19 Pandemic," NBER Working Paper 30512 ttp://
Political affiliation has emerged as a potential risk factor for COVID-19, amid evidence that Republican-leaning counties have had higher COVID-19 death rates than Democrat- leaning counties and evidence of a link between political party affiliation and vaccination views. This study constructs an individual-level dataset with political affiliation and excess death rates during the COVID-19 pandemic via a linkage of 2017 voter registration in Ohio and Florida to mortality data from 2018 to 2021. We estimate substantially higher excess death rates for registered Republicans when compared to registered Democrats, with almost all of the difference concentrated in the period after vaccines were widely available in our study states. Overall, the excess death rate for Republicans was 5.4 percentage points (pp), or 76%, higher than the excess death rate for Democrats. Post- vaccines, the excess death rate gap between Republicans and Democrats widened from 1.6 pp (22% of the Democrat excess death rate) to 10.4 pp (153% of the Democrat excess death rate). The gap in excess death rates between Republicans and Democrats is concentrated in counties with low vaccination rates and only materializes after vaccines became widely available.