If the predominant media narrative is to be believed, it is primarily white, evangelical, Trump voters who are dragging down vaccination rates. For example, the lead in this story in the Houston Chronicle was, “Low vaccination rates in counties that are whiter and more conservative could be impairing Texas’ ability to quickly reach herd immunity for COVID-19.” However, the actual vaccine demographic data directly contradicts this narrative.
The CDC has been publishing demographic data on who is getting vaccinated for some time and there have been a plethora polls and surveys as well. All the data show that older whites are getting vaccinated at the highest rates, while younger people and minorities have been less likely to do so. This is a recent chart from the CDC data on the breakdown by ethnicity.1
As you can see, the vaccination rate between ethnic groups is actually within a fairly narrow range, with African-Americans lagging somewhat behind. For some historic reasons, like the dreadful Tuskegee experiments, there has traditionally been widespread skepticism in the African-American community about government health programs generally.
This chart is from a US Census survey as of July 5, for those Americans over 18 reporting that they have received at least one shot. Again, the numbers lie within a fairly narrow range, but still show African-Americans slightly lagging.
A recent poll in Texas found that 31% of African-Americans said they would not get the vaccine, compared to 20% for Latinos and 19% for whites.
But, by far, the most notable demographic divergence is based on age. This is a chart based on CDC data for the percentage that is fully vaccinated by age group.2
Unfortunately, the CDC does not provide crosstabs so we cannot correlate age and ethnicity, but with these numbers it is virtually impossible for older whites, who tend to be more conservative, more religious, and more likely to have voted for Trump, to be the culprits that the media has made them out to be in lowering the vaccination rate. Rather, it is clear that younger people passing on vaccination is the main reason the rate is lagging. And since ethnic minorities make up a larger share of the young age groups, it would necessarily follow that ethnic vaccination rates would be lower.
And that is exactly what we should expect. Serious COVID disease is quite rare below the age of 40. According to the CDC’s latest data there have been fewer than 10,000 Americans under the age of 40 who have died with COVID. That is about half the number of Americans under 40 who died from suicide in 2019. And about the same as the number who were murdered in 2019.3 Simply put, those under 40 do not have the same incentive to be vaccinated because the likelihood of a serious outcome from the disease is dramatically lower than in older groups. So, it is hardly surprising then that their vaccination rates have also been lower.
I have been extremely disappointed in the politicization of COVID by many in the media and by many public officials. Hyper-partisans on both sides seek to define every issue on a one-dimensional left-right political spectrum. In doing so, they have frequently taken considerable liberty with their interpretation of the data. What they fail to understand is that for the vast majority who are not getting vaccinated, political considerations have been the last thing on their mind. Rather that decision has been driven by a complex set of demographic and personal considerations.
In his recent book The Storm Before the Calm, George Friedman describes the growing distrust Americans have in traditional institutions. Poll after poll shows Americans growing ever more wary of information coming from official sources and the mainstream media. Many in those institutions blame the rise of misinformation on the internet as the cause. But I think it is more likely that the blatant, agenda-driven information coming from these institutions is to blame.
Our institutions should provide factual information without political partisan spin. Then let the American people make informed decisions for themselves. They will do better than you think.
Note 1 – This data was as of July 24, when approximately 162 million Americans had been fully vaccinated. However, the CDC had only received ethnic data for 102 million of those. So, we have no information on the ethnicity of about 38% of those who have been fully vaccinated. That amount of missing data could significantly skew these results.
Note 2 -This data is much more complete than the ethnic data, with 92% of the participants’ ages reported.
Note 3 – CDC Leading Causes of Death