A new study examines excess deaths by partisan affiliation in two states during the pandemic.
Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have warned that some of us are at higher risk of serious consequences from the virus, due to factors such as age or medical conditions. pre-existing.
The new research points to another factor that puts people at greater risk of dying from COVID-19: party affiliation.
The study finds excess deaths during the pandemic were 76% higher among Republicans than Democrats in two states, Ohio and Florida.
Additionally, the partisan gap in death rates increased significantly after the introduction of vaccines.
The research was led by Paul Goldsmith-Pinkham of the Yale University School of Management and Jacob Wallace and Jason L. Schwartz of the Yale School of Public Health.
For Goldsmith-Pinkham, the sharp divergence in excess mortality rates that has emerged in the post-vaccine period “is quite striking…and the magnitudes are quite significant.” While the research does not definitively prove that low vaccination rates among Republicans explain the mortality gap, “it does indicate that it is a potential mechanism.”
Whether and to what extent party affiliation affects COVID-19 outcomes has been widely debated among public health scholars and is not easy to answer. Some research found that the death toll from COVID-19 was higher in red counties than in blue ones, but analyzing county-level data makes it difficult to be sure that this part alone explains the differences. . It’s theoretically possible that other factors about those counties, such as weather or average household size or availability of health care, could be bigger contributors to the death rate than how they voted.
Goldsmith-Pinkham and her co-authors decided to take a different approach that would avoid these pitfalls. They gathered nearly 600,000 death records from Ohio and Florida from 2018 to 2021 and compared those records to voter registration data from 2017. This allowed them to determine the party affiliation of each deceased person.
Next, they used the 2019 data as a benchmark to determine expected death rates based on age, time of year, location, and party affiliation. In other words, they calculated how many Republicans and Democrats in a given age bracket and a given county would normally die in a given season. Anything above or below 2019 “normal” was considered “excessive death.”
The excess death framework had two important strengths: it allowed researchers to study the effects of political party at the individual level rather than at the geographic level, and it provided a built-in way to account for differences in age and location.
When researchers looked at excess deaths before and after the pandemic, the results were sobering. Tragically, but unsurprisingly, Republicans and Democrats saw a sudden increase in mortality in the first year of the pandemic. While excess death rates were slightly higher among Republicans than Democrats, “both are dying at very high rates during this period,” Goldsmith-Pinkham says.
The fates of Republicans and Democrats began to diverge markedly after the introduction of vaccines in April 2021. Between March 2020 and March 2021, excess death rates for Republicans were 1.6 percentage points higher than those for Democrats . After April 2021, the gap widened to 10.6 percentage points.
Does this mean that different vaccination levels between Republicans and Democrats caused the mortality gap? Goldsmith-Pinkham says this study alone doesn’t prove that’s the case. However, he thinks it offers “pretty good evidence” that vaccines are at least an important part of the story.
And if that’s indeed the case, that suggests policymakers should consider vaccine advocacy interventions specifically targeted at Republicans, says Goldsmith-Pinkham: “It gives you an idea of where you should be looking and who you should target if you want to solve some of these problems.
Source: Susie Allen for Yale University