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More Republicans than Democrats died after COVID-19 vaccines were available

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Researchers analyze pandemic mortality, ‘excess deaths,’ along party lines in two states.

After COVID-19 vaccines were available, Republicans had higher excess death rates than Democrats, with differences “concentrated in counties with lower vaccination rates.”

The findings were part of a study, “Excess Death Rates for Republicans and Democrats During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” published this fall by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In a news release, coauthor Jason L. Schwartz, PhD, said “the findings amplify the critical importance of vaccines.”

“Even as we continue to hear and talk a lot about booster campaigns, the updated booster, and trying to reach folks with their third or fourth or fifth dose, there are still over 70 million Americans who have yet to receive even their first dose of a COVID vaccine, who have rejected it all this time,” said Schwartz, an associate professor of public health at Yale. “Those individuals remain at dramatically increased risk of severe outcomes, including death.”

Measuring mortality

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Schwartz and Yale coauthors Jacob Wallace, PhD, assistant professor of public health, and Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham, PhD, assistant professor of finance, examined 2017 voter registration records from Ohio and Florida, along with 577,659 deaths of people who died aged 25 years or older from January 2018 to December 2021.

“Excess deaths” – the percent increase in deaths above expected deaths due to seasonality, geographic location, political party affiliation and age – were similar for Republicans and Democrats in 2018 and early 2020. Both groups had a similar large spike in excess death in winter 2020-2021.

“However, in the summer of 2021 – after vaccines were widely available – the Republican excess death rate rose to nearly double that of Democrats, and this gap widened further in the winter of 2021,” the study said.

From March 2020 to December 2021, a time overlapping with the COVID-19 pandemic, average excess death rates were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats. That grew to a 95% difference when measured from March 2020 to March 2021, and a 153% difference after April 5, 2021, “when all adults were eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in Florida and Ohio,” the study said.

“This sharp contrast in the excess death rate gap before and after vaccines were available suggests that vaccine take-up likely played an important role,” the study said. Factoring in county-level vaccination rates, areas with larger vaccination rates “saw much smaller excess death rate gaps between Republicans and Democrats (even after adjusting for county and age differences).”

Potential limitations

The study did not attribute exact or estimated numbers of deaths based on party line in each state.

The authors noted they did not have complete mortality data or information on individual vaccination status, which limited the ability to draw broad conclusions. But the findings “suggest that the well-documented differences in vaccination attitudes and reported uptake between Republicans and Democrats have already had serious consequences for the severity and trajectory of the pandemic in the United States,” they said.


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