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26 August, 2021updated 01 Nov 2021 10:26

Sebastian Shehadi

Opinion: Vaccine refusals in red states mean more death and less investment 

Republican states are losing the US vaccination race – and with deadly consequences. A stark economic price is also being paid.

US-Vaccination-Red-States

The US has carried out an extensive vaccination programme, but in many ‘red states’ hesitancy over the jab remains a huge issue. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Like many other countries with falling vaccination rates, the US is running out of people who are willing to poke life-saving needles in their arms. Out of desperation, many states have gone into bargaining mode. In West Virginia, for example, the jab-less have been offered everything from free fishing licenses to university scholarships as an incentive.

Much like other states that voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 elections, West Virginia’s vaccination rollout lags behind the national average. In fact, recent analysis from Investment Monitor shows just how politicised the process has become, with 14% of Democrats in need of a vaccine versus 46% of Republicans – one in five Republicans say that they will not get the vaccine, compared with just one in twenty Democrats.

The outcome is simple and tragic: more people are dying in red states (proportionally speaking) as the infamous Delta variant surges across the US. It is no coincidence that last week saw Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Oregon hit all-time highs for daily new cases since the pandemic began (bar Oregon, they are all red or purple states).

Only 44.8% of House Republicans and 92% of Republican senators had been jabbed. Is it any surprise, therefore, that their constituents followed suit?

This summer, West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, told ABC: “The red states probably have a lot of people that are very, very conservative in their thinking and they think, ‘Well, I don’t have to do that.’ But they’re not thinking right.”

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Beyond political creed, it should be noted that age and poverty have also contributed to sluggish vaccination rates in Republican (and Democrat) states. But politicians, in tandem with their media outlets, have played the leading role.

Back in May of this year, a CNN survey of all 535 members of Congress found that all Democrats (from both chambers) were fully vaccinated, while only 44.8% of House Republicans and 92% of Republican senators had been jabbed. Is it any surprise, therefore, that their constituents followed suit?

But a change of tune is aloft. After red states became Covid-19 hotbeds this summer, many high-profile voices in the conservative landscape began avidly supporting vaccination (how coincidental). Among these are the likes of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Fox News’s Sean Hannity, who previously called the virus a hoax. CYA, springs to mind.

Don’t forget the economic impact

It almost goes without saying that locations with higher rates of Covid-19 see greater fatality rates and, generally, more economic disruption. After all, 2020 saw the lowest annual real GDP growth in the US since the Second World War – and red states are now the ones slowing down the nation’s economic recovery the most.

Locations with less control over Covid-19 pose more risk to business activity, especially direct investment (foreign or domestic).

In the coming weeks and months, the ongoing Delta surge may lead Republican governors to reimpose painful restrictions and shutdowns. Even if they don’t, those states (and their citizens) face ever-increasing and gargantuan healthcare bills. In any case, locations with less control over Covid-19 pose more risk to business activity, especially direct investment (foreign or domestic).

The pandemic is more than just a short-term risk for such investors, since Covid-19 variants may continue to plague and disrupt the world for another year or two. For red states, therefore, the reputational and logistical fallout of losing the battle against Covid-19 should be of utmost concern, especially since red and purple lands are among the key beneficiaries of foreign direct investment (see below chart). Do Republicans not pride and style themselves as the ‘pro-business’ party?

A similar irony was clear to see with regards to the GOP’s China policy. Despite the fact that Republican states had the most to lose (economically speaking) from deteriorated relations with China, their citizens and politicians still tried to re-elect China-bashing, trade war-stoking Trump.

Beyond the conclusion that US politics has entered an age of madness, part of the problem is the fact that many parts of the US take the country’s economic superiority for granted.

Beyond the conclusion that US politics has entered an age of madness, part of the problem is the fact that many parts of the US take the country’s economic superiority for granted, especially with regards to foreign direct investment, and, therefore, might not appreciate the cost of deterring investors. For example, it may surprise some to learn that foreign multinationals created 80% of all new manufacturing jobs in the US between 2013 and 2018.

On the other hand, some US locations are very aware of the aforementioned risks and priorities. Investment Monitor recently received an email from representatives of the city of Carmel in Indiana, entitled “Vaccine Oasis in a Red State''. It praised the fact that, while Covid-19 runs rampant across most red states, the longstanding Republican city of Carmel is bucking the trend. “Whereas the statewide rate of those fully vaccinated in Indiana is a little over 43%, in Carmel it is north of 70%,” it read.

It’s a pretty sad day for city marketing, and humanity more generally, when a location’s point of pride is “we save lives better than our neighbours, thanks to a population that deigns to take life-saving jabs”. The bar has dropped to apocalyptic lows.

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