By Ronn Smith,
Wyoming Rising, September 30, 2021
On September 18th of this year, protesters gathered in Cody to express their outrage at COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Among them were State Representatives Dan Laursen and Rachael Rodriguez-Williams, and State Senator Tim French. Ostensibly the protest was about personal freedom and the rejection of government controls, not the merits of getting vaccinated. If so, then why not protest laws against drunk driving? Republicans, Democrats, and Independents agree that driving under the influence of alcohol risks lives, and therefore we submit willingly to government control. How is vaccination to arrest the spread of a deadly virus so different?
The answer may lie in a comment made at the Cody protest. Senator French said a federal mandate would “put workers in the terrible situation of choosing between getting a shot they don’t want or losing their job.” This statement implies that people legitimately don’t want the vaccine. Whether their refusal stems from skepticism about the vaccine’s effectiveness or from political identification with the fashionable far right, it disregards compelling evidence. In the process it ignores both self-interest and social responsibility to safeguard public health.
Consider the evidence. The mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have proven safe and effective on at least three levels. First, clinical trials conducted nearly a year ago demonstrated that receipt of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines was 94% effective against COVID-19 hospitalization among fully vaccinated adults. Second, hospital records in the U.S. from the last several months show an overwhelming percentage of COVID-19 hospitalizations originate from the unvaccinated population. Third, a state-by-state analysis by Mayo Clinic demonstrates a strong inverse relationship between COVID-19 hospitalization rates and vaccination rates. West Virginia currently has the lowest vaccination rate and the highest per-capita hospitalization rate in the country, with Wyoming not far ahead.
Of course, since vaccines are not 100% effective at preventing infection, a small fraction of fully vaccinated people will still get COVID-19. Even so, fully vaccinated people with a vaccine breakthrough infection are less likely to develop serious illness than those who are unvaccinated and get COVID-19. This means they are much less apt to be hospitalized or die than people who are not vaccinated. Anyone who cites anecdotal evidence to the contrary either hasn’t researched the facts or fails to understand probability and risk.
A New York Times analysis of data from 40 states and Washington, D.C., shows that during the most recent surge of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, fully vaccinated people made up between 0.1% and 5% of the individuals hospitalized with the virus in those states. While Wyoming was not part of the study, in Montana less than 1% of the people hospitalized for Covid infections were fully vaccinated. The same was true for Idaho, with Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota showing just over 1%. As of September 9, 2021, 41% of the population of Wyoming was fully vaccinated and the hospitalization rate was 38 individuals per 100,000 population. Assuming (based on surrounding states) that 1% of the hospitalizations in the state are from breakthrough infections, you are 69 times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid if you are not fully vaccinated. This means the vaccines are better than 98% effective in this region of the country, exceeding the predictions from early trials.
For people averse to medical studies and statistics, there is a simpler way to show that vaccinations have worked on a massive scale. The graph below plots COVID-19 vaccination rates against hospitalization rates in the U.S. The dots on the graph anonymously represent the 50 states, while the line approximates the general relationship between vaccination and hospitalization rates. The more people that receive the vaccination, the fewer the hospitalizations.
Why do the vaccination rates differ so widely among the states? As suggested above, likely factors underlying the refusal of vaccinations include denial of the evidence and political identification. To evaluate this hypothesis, the following graphs were constructed to correlate vaccination rates first with education levels, and second with political identification. States with a higher percentage of college-educated residents exhibit higher vaccination rates. Separately, states with a larger share of residents identifying as non-Republican also exhibit higher vaccination rates.
The correlation between education and political affiliation among the states is weak, minimizing the possibility that one depends on the other. To evaluate whether either of these factors is dominant in predicting vaccination rates, the final graph below plots vaccination rates against the combination of education and politics. Experimentation led to an equal weighting of both factors to yield the strongest linear correlation. If you are college educated and lean Independent or Democrat, you are far more likely to get vaccinated.
This conclusion merely recognizes trends and should not be overstated. Many Republicans and people without college degrees have exercised sound judgment and received the vaccination. For those who have not, it is the responsibility of our leaders at the local, state, and national levels to encourage participation in the vaccination program. Sadly, perhaps tragically, the leaders who showed up at the Cody protest have done just the opposite.