North Carolina’s reddest counties show lower vaccine rates, higher hesitancy

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Rates of COVID-19 vaccination tend to be lower while willingness to get the vaccine trends higher in the counties where the highest numbers of residents voted for former Republican President Donald Trump, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

The numbers mirror findings from The New York Times, which found the disparity in vaccination rates nationally tends to break along party lines at the county level.

“I think my gut reaction is that these data are not surprising,” said Dr. Lavanya Vasudevan, an assistant professor of family medicine and community health at Duke University.

Said North Carolina State University political science professor Andrew Taylor: “There clearly is something to this.”

Of the 12 counties in the state where Trump earned at least 75 percent of votes, none have vaccinated at least 40 percent of their adult residents with at least one dose and six have not vaccinated a third of them.

Both figures trail the statewide average by a wide margin: The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says 47 percent of adults across the state have had at least one dose.

And not surprisingly, the percentages of complete vaccination also lags, with none of those 12 counties fully vaccinating more than 32 percent of their adult residents. DHHS says 35 percent of adults across the state are fully vaccinated.

“I don’t know whether it is … an actual political response or political action,” Taylor said. “I think it’s the fact that people who perhaps tended to vote for Trump are the ones who tend to have the suspicion of the government and the process and the media.”

Counties that went for Trump outnumber those that chose Democratic nominee Joe Biden by a 3 to 1 margin. And some red counties do have high vaccination rates — nearly 59 percent of adults in Dare County and 54 percent of those in Hyde County have had at least one dose, accounting for two of the three highest rates in the state.

But, on average, the trend is lower.

“I think it’s more the fact that some of these things are correlated,” Taylor said. “Sort of general distrust in outsiders, general distrust in the news media, general distrust in the federal government is correlated with, perhaps, voting for Trump. It’s not as though people were saying, ‘I’m just not going to take it. I think it’s safe. I think it’s OK. I’m just not going to take it.’ So it’s more of a correlation of these things, rather than, I think, a conscious political decision not to do it.”

Said Vasudevan: “The virus does not distinguish between blue and red” counties.

A recent survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found residents of red counties also tend to be less likely to say they plan to get vaccinated.

The CDC estimated more than 20 percent of residents in a dozen counties either would probably not or definitely not get the vaccine. Ten of them were won by Trump. At the other end, of the eight counties with an estimated hesitancy of 16 percent or below, four went for Biden.

With demand for the vaccine leveling off in some parts of the state and the country — putting the pursuit of herd immunity in jeopardy — dispersing accurate information is critical, experts say.

“Our opinions are often shaped by the information bubbles that we live in, our sources of trust and the messages that they convey,” Vasudevan said. “And in many parts of the country, a different version of the pandemic is being played out. And that is one where people are being told that COVID-19 is not serious, or vaccines are not necessary. And the message is coming from sources that those communities trust. So that is what many people believe.”

While community and faith-based leaders have been leaned upon so far, Vasudevan says the time might be approaching to engage other trusted voices — such as health providers.

“A one size fits all approach will not work,” Vasudevan said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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