This effect can be seen on a smaller scale within states. As the Associated Press reported on March 1, even healthcare workers were being forced to drive hours away from their homes in more urban areas of Tennessee because vaccine was in short supply there while it was abundant in rural areas. The same thing happened in Missouri. And in Alabama.
The story of “I traveled miles to get a vaccination at a rural location” has become a regular feature of local news stories, some of which have been focused on heaping scorn on urban folks who darted out to “steal” vaccine in small towns. But those stories haven’t often asked the question: Why is there vaccine available in these rural locations and not in urban areas? Why have there been so many stories of vaccine going to waste in rural areas when an insufficient number of people showed up for a vaccination event, or stories of “come one, come all” calls going out at the last minute to people who were not technically qualified to receive a vaccine under state laws after an insufficient number appeared to use available doses? It’s bad enough that several states haven’t even been counting how many doses of vaccine have simply gone to waste.
At the same time that some areas have seen vaccine overabundance, events in other areas have encountered so much demand that websites have crashed and thousands have attempted to register for each available dose. Stories about these events have tend to behave as if the fault lies with health departments not up to the logistical challenge, or a simple shortage of vaccine—but that shortage isn’t being felt equally across regions. And there’s a simple reason why.
From before Biden took office, a plurality of Republicans were saying that they did not want the COVID-19 vaccine. As more vaccine has become available, the “Yes” and “Unsure” components of the Republican cohort have become increasingly satisfied. At this point, only a quarter of Republicans are still out there saying “Yes,” they want to get the vaccine.
Compare this with the vaccine demand on the Democratic side.
Vaccine demand among Democrats was high to begin with, it moved sharply higher as soon as vaccine was available, and has declined only by conversion to the “already been vaccinated” category. Only 5% of Democrats say they do not intend to get a vaccination, and 63% of Democrats still intend to be vaccinated.
Again, these are better indicators for vaccine demand than race, or gender, or age, or education. A large majority of Democratic adults want the vaccine. Only a quarter of remaining Republicans are committed to being vaccinated.
The reasons for this are rooted in a long campaign by right-wing media that has been very effective in peeling Republicans away from following the advice of scientists and medical experts. It doesn’t matter if those scientists are speaking for the environment or for public health—the right has staked out ground that says, “If enough people with PhDs and MDs are for it, we’re against it.” It’s become an integral, even vital, piece of their underlying philosophy, and a little thing like a global pandemic that has already killed over half a million Americans isn’t going to stop it. In fact, the right-wing media has essentially nurtured their own anti-vax movement into being during the pandemic.
They’ve created a situation where attempting to distribute vaccine equally based on population simply doesn’t work, because the higher the level of Republicans in any population, the more likely they are to refuse the vaccine. In those circumstances, distributing vaccine equally without taking party demographics into consideration is a formula for wasting vaccine. It also prolongs the pandemic because the Americans who would most readily accept vaccination are not getting doses as quickly as they could.
And the answer is simple: Send less vaccine to red states. Increase the percentage going to blue states.
If anything will get Fox News to suddenly make a 180-degree turn and begin demanding that Republicans should get vaccinated, that will do it.