Opinion

Conservatives are leaving America wide open to the Delta variant

Vaccine refusal means a surge in new cases is all but inevitable

The United Kingdom is suffering another major coronavirus outbreak. Cases have increased by roughly 15-fold since May, and are still soaring upwards. This is despite the fact that the U.K. is one of the most-vaccinated countries in the world, with about 68 percent of the population having at least one dose and 50 percent with two.

The reason is the Delta variant, which is much more contagious and possibly more deadly and now makes up the overwhelming majority of U.K. infections. There appear to be both outbreaks in clusters of people who are not vaccinated yet, and also a significant number of "breakthrough" infections that got past the vaccine — though importantly, vaccination still seems to prevent almost all serious illness, as U.K. hospitalizations have increased far, far less than cases.

So far, no U.S. state has seen that kind of explosion in cases. But the Delta variant has been detected across the country, and many conservative states are far behind the U.K. in getting vaccinated. It's virtually certain that some or all of them will see major surges at some point, which will be much more deadly.

Now, it should be noted that the U.K. has mostly used the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not as good as the Pfizer and Moderna versions used for most American inoculations. Studies have also suggested a single vaccine dose is less effective against Delta, and Britain went for a "first dose first" strategy that means its share of fully vaccinated population is substantially behind leading states like Vermont (66 percent of the whole population with two shots), Massachusetts (62 percent), and Connecticut (61 percent). Most liberal states have built a reasonably strong vaccine wall that ought to prevent major outbreaks, and at least protect people from serious illness.

But that is not remotely true in any conservative state. For instance, Alabama has just 40 percent with at least one dose and 32 percent fully vaxxed; Idaho has 40 and 36 percent; Wyoming has 40 and 35 percent; Louisiana has 39 and 35 percent; and Mississippi has 36 and 30 percent. Numerous other red states are only doing slightly better. It is basically impossible to avoid the conclusion that these states will see more outbreaks sooner or later — no matter how much better the mRNA vaccines are than AstraZeneca, they simply cannot create herd immunity if six-tenths of the population hasn't gotten them.

There are no doubt a number of reasons for this. Red states are poorer, meaning lots of people who are less likely to have time to get the vaccine, or may have fears over cost or not being able to take time off work. Health care infrastructure is also worse in red states, so people may be struggling to find a place to get their shot.

But at this point the most important factor at this point is surely political partisanship. As my colleague Joel Mathis points out, numerous conservative elites like Tucker Carlson (the most popular cable news host in the country) have spread anti-vaccine misinformation and politicized the vaccines, just like they did with masks, social distancing measures, and the virus itself. It isn't just Fox News, either — as Anna Merlan writes at Vice, the anti-vaccine crank Bret Weinstein has found a sympathetic ear among loud, credulous contrarians like Bari Weiss, Matt Taibbi, and Glenn Greenwald.

Now, Donald Trump and a number of other Republican politicians (possibly worried about economic damage) have halfheartedly tried to recommend vaccination. But as the idea that not getting vaccinated will own the libs has taken root in conservative media, they have retreated and ceded the field to the lunatics. Other governors like Texas' Greg Abbott and Florida's Ron DeSantis have actively politicized against vaccine mandates and other pandemic control measures to try pander to the anti-vaccine base.

As a result, a recent poll found that 47 percent of Republicans say they likely will not get the vaccine, as compared to just six percent of Democrats. Fully 38 percent of Republicans say they definitely will not get vaccinated, along with 22 percent of independents. This means the situation is even worse than those pathetic vaccination rates mentioned above, since liberals in those states are likely to make up a disproportionate share of the already-vaccinated, and they tend to cluster in cities. Sure enough, a great many rural, conservative counties have not even cracked 20 percent vaccination.

It's hard to put words to how maddeningly irresponsible conservative elites are behaving towards their own loyal followers. America had a vaccine head start on almost the entire world — thanks in part to the only good thing President Trump ever did, namely Operation Warp Speed. But the conservative "perpetual misinformation machine" just couldn't help itself. Sooner or later, right-wing media always picks the most gleefully dishonest and irresponsible road available to it. Thousands and thousands of Americans are going to die of an easily preventable illness in the second half of this year, and the bulk of them are going to be conservative vaccine refuseniks who got tricked by idiots and charlatans.

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