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.
Unfortunately, Republican 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.
[O]n the single factor that those experts say mattered most in fighting Covid — widespread vaccinations — Mr. DeSantis’s approach proved deeply flawed. While the governor personally crusaded for Floridians 65 and older to get shots, he laid off once younger age groups became eligible.
Tapping into suspicion of public health authorities, which the Republican right was fanning, he effectively stopped preaching the virtues of Covid vaccines. Instead, he emphasized his opposition to requiring anyone to get shots, from hospital workers to cruise ship guests.
While Florida was an early leader in the share of over-65 residents who were vaccinated, it had fallen to the middle of the pack by the end of July 2021. When it came to younger residents, Florida lagged behind the national average in every age group.
That left the state particularly vulnerable when the Delta variant hit that month. Floridians died at a higher rate, adjusted for age, than residents of almost any other state during the Delta wave, according to the Times analysis. With less than 7 percent of the nation’s population, Florida accounted for 14 percent of deaths between the start of July and the end of October.
Of the 23,000 Floridians who died, 9,000 were younger than 65. Despite the governor’s insistence at the time that “our entire vulnerable population has basically been vaccinated,” a vast majority of the 23,000 were either unvaccinated or had not yet completed the two-dose regimen.
A high vaccination rate was especially important in Florida, which trails only Maine in the share of residents 65 and older. By the end of July, Florida had vaccinated about 60 percent of adults, just shy of the national average. Had it reached a vaccination rate of 74 percent — the average for five New England states at the time — it could have prevented more than 16,000 deaths and more than 61,000 hospitalizations that summer, according to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet.
“These were preventable deaths,” Dr. [Scott] Rivkees, who resigned as Florida’s surgeon general in September 2021, said in a recent interview. “It breaks my heart thinking that things could have turned out differently if people embraced vaccines instead of this anti-vax stuff.”