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The pandemic has inflicted higher rates of excess deaths on both Republicans and Democrats. But since the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccines, Republican voters in Florida and Ohio have died at a higher rate than their counterparts, according to a new study.
From the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 through December 2021, « excess mortality was significantly higher for Republican voters than Democratic voters after COVID-19 vaccines were available to all adults, but not before, » Yale University researchers who have studied the pandemic’s effects on these two states say.
More specifically, the researchers say, their adjusted analysis found that « the excess death rate among Republican voters was 43 percent higher than the excess death rate among Democratic voters » after vaccine eligibility was opened.
The different rates « were concentrated in counties with lower vaccination rates and noted primarily in Ohio-based voters, » according to the study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday.
It is the latest research to suggest the dangers of mixing partisan politics with medical advice and health policy.
How was the study carried out?
The researchers analyzed data on 538,159 people who died between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2021, ages 25 and older, compiling their political party affiliations based on 2017 data.
The study collected weekly death counts, breaking down the deceased’s party ties along with their county and age cohort. He used May 1, 2021 as the key dividing line because the date marks one month after all US adults became eligible to receive shots of the COVID-19 vaccines.
The researchers estimated the excess mortality based on how the overall rate of deaths during the pandemic compared to what would have been expected from historical pre-pandemic trends.
Researchers saw a division suddenly emerge
While calculating excess death rate data for Florida and Ohio, the researchers found only small differences between Republican and Democratic voters in the first year of the pandemic, with both groups experiencing equally steep increases in excess deaths that winter.
That has changed as the summer of 2021 approaches. As access to the coronavirus vaccine has widened, so has the excess mortality gap. In the researchers’ adjusted analysis of the period after April 1, 2021, they calculated the excess death rate for Democrat voters at 18.1 and that for Republicans at 25.8, a difference of 7.7 percentage points that equates to a 43 percent gap.
After the gap was established in the summer of 2021, it widened further in the fall, according to the study authors.
The study does not provide all the answers
The researchers note that their study has several limitations, including the possibility that political party affiliation « is an indicator of other risk factors, » such as income, health insurance status and chronic medical conditions, along with race and ethnicity.
The study focused only on registered Republicans and Democrats; independents were excluded. And because the researchers drilled into data in Florida and Ohio, they caution that their findings may not translate to other states.
The researchers’ data also did not specify a cause of death and accounted for about 83.5 percent of deaths in the United States, rather than the entire number. And since data on the vaccination status of each of the 538,159 people who died in the two states was unavailable, the researchers could only go as granular as county-level in assessing excess deaths and vaccination rates.
The study was funded by Yale University’s Tobin Center for Economic Policy and the Yale School of Public Health’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Fund.
New findings join other overviews of politics and the pandemic
In late 2021, an analysis by NPR found that after May of that year — a time frame that overlaps with the vaccine availability cited in the new study — people in counties that voted strongly for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election were « nearly three times more likely to die of COVID-19 » than people in pro-Biden counties.
“An unvaccinated person is three times more likely to lean Republican than lean Democrat,” Liz Hamel, vice president of public opinion and polling research at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, told NPR.
Even before vaccines were widely available, researchers were working to quantify the effects of widely divergent COVID-19 policies in the United States.
A widely cited study from early 2021 found that in the first few months of the pandemic’s official start date in March 2020, states with Republican governors had lower COVID-19 case numbers and death rates than Democratic-led states. But the trend reversed around mid-2020, as Republican governors were less likely to institute controls like stay-at-home orders and face mask requirements.
‘Future policy decisions should be guided by public health considerations rather than political ideology,’ said the authors of that study, which was selected as article of the year by the American journal of preventive medicine.