Mississippi may be ahead of the game when it comes to opening up vaccines to everyone and still having trouble firing shots, but it's not alone. Other states in the south – especially Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee also have low vaccination rates, due in part to vaccines not used at events in heavily Republican areas. Ohio and Oklahoma governors have also warned they are struggling to find vaccine recipients.
As the weeks go by, and because Republicans' anti-science stance prevents them from accepting the vaccine, not only is it a threat to effectively vaccinating those who want it, but the sheer number of unvaccinated Republicans can lead to that the nation cannot achieve the required levels for herd immunity no matter how much vaccine is introduced.
Over a month ago, a vaccination in a rural Missouri county failed to use 1,500 doses of vaccine. That county voted 84% for Donald Trump. It wasn't a unique event. Out of 2,000 cans sent to another event, only 648 were used. At least four Missouri National Guard mass vaccination events in rural areas had hundreds of unused doses. At the same time, in urban areas like St. Louis, hundreds of uses have been made for every available dose of vaccine.
Urban areas in St. Louis and Kansas City received fewer doses per population than rural areas, partly because state officials believed that black populations in those cities would be reluctant to accept the vaccine. Similar assumptions were made in Atlanta, where officials deliberately reduced grants on the assumption that black communities would reject the vaccine. Nationwide, Black and Latinx communities are still inadequate when it comes to dosing the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, actual survey data, along with local experience, show that blacks' uptake of the vaccine is actually much higher than that of white communities. Eventually, both Missouri Governor Mike Parson and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp had to admit that demand was indeed higher in urban areas with higher black populations, but only after thousands of vaccine doses went unused at a time, the rising number of cases and new, rapidly expanding variants threatened a "fourth wave" of cases. On Thursday, WorldOMeters recorded over 80,000 new cases in the US for the first time since February.
The 33.7% of Americans who have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to date are definitely not enough to bring the rate of transmission down noticeably, and even hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses have been dumped in areas with high vaccine levels in demand earlier, it should have made not much of a difference in terms of nation. However, for the hundreds of thousands at risk due to poor assumptions and decisions about vaccine demand, this would surely have made a difference.
At this point, only 18% of Republicans say "yes" that they still want a COVID-19 vaccine. In just over a month, the United States should be in the position of a vaccine excess. It's an enviable position (and one that ethically requires the US to send vaccines to less privileged nations). We are not there yet.
There was some suspicion that even though Republicans said they didn't want the vaccine, they would calmly take it anyway. That will not happen. Instead, the actions of the Republican governors to fully reopen states like Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Georgia are sending a very visible signal that the vaccine simply isn't needed. Because everything is fine. Meanwhile, when Republican governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis were being vaccinated, they were doing it quietly. Almost secretly. From the public and without a single announcement.
Add conspiracy theories on social media ranging from standard anti-Vax grievances to Bill Gates-centric Q-Sense and pressure to get vaccinated by Republicans is easily countered. The number of Republicans saying they want to get vaccinated has barely increased since the first vaccine was available last year.
There has been a tendency in the past to point out anti-vax sentiments as something that affects the left, and some experts still make that assumption today. But really, that hasn't been the case for a while. At this point, Republicans are an amazing ten times more likely to say no to something that should be completely apolitical. It is an indication of how deep resistance to basic research and medical facts has become an integral part of overall Republican identity.
Overall, 21% of Americans say they won't get the vaccine, while another 8% aren't sure. If everyone else is vaccinated – adults and children – that should just be enough to get the nation moving towards something near herd immunity. But it will be tight, especially given the increasing contagion of the recent variants. Republicans are not done putting the nation's health at risk when it comes to COVID-19.
A vaccine hero
While Republican vaccine rejection can be both frustrating and worrying, the New York Times also has a wonderful story when it comes to COVID-19 and these incredibly potent vaccines. That's because she wrote an article about researcher Dr. Katalin Kariko. The 66-year-old grew up in Hungary, emigrated to the USA and, like far too many women in science, found herself forever hidden in research.
Year for year, DR. Kariko was forced to seek a new position, working for one of the more established scientists in control of Penn's laboratories. She found these positions, but it was never safe. And when she switched from one project to another, she never made more than $ 60,000 a year.
But during all of this, Dr. Always obsessed with Kariko: Messenger RNA. She was convinced that mRNA technology offers endless possibilities. She just had trouble convincing the men who controlled the labs and who had to push their own, less radical projects forward. Every time she found someone who was a great partner for her ideas, it only seemed to take a few years before she either retired or got another job so she could always start over.
It took decades for them to mate Dr. Drew Weissman on the idea of using mRNA in vaccines. Especially in an HIV vaccine. Finally, this research is showing spectacular results. MRNA vaccines in the form of Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are used in billions of dollars worldwide.
"My dream has always been that we would develop something in the laboratory that would help people," said Dr. Weissman. "I have fulfilled my lifelong dream."
Dr. Kariko celebrated the news about the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines by eating a box of chocolate-coated peanuts. Then she went back to work.