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Louisiana's Most Under-Vaccinated: White People In Republican Parishes And Black People Everywhere

Phoebe Jones
The mass COVID-19 vaccination site at New Orleans' Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. March 4, 2020.

White people in Louisiana’s parishes that voted most heavily Republican in 2020 are getting vaccinated at lower rates than the rest of the state, a WWNO/WRKF analysis finds, reinforcing concerns that some public health officials are voicing over vaccine hesitancy among people who identify as conservative.

The analysis also shows that Black residents continue to experience the largest vaccine disparities: In 57 of the state’s 64 parishes, Black residents are getting vaccinated at rates lower than their share of the population.

WWNO/WRKF analyzed the vaccine data for parishes, including available race and demographic information, and compared it to how each parish voted in the 2020 presidential election.

In the 14 parishes that gave the most support to former President Trump in 2020, white people were under-vaccinated by roughly 6 percentage points compared to the group’s overall share of the population. By contrast, white people in the parishes that supported Biden in 2020 were found to be vaccinated at nearly 8 points greater than their overall share.

The analysis also indicates that the growing fear of high vaccine hesitancy among Republicans or people who identify as conservative is valid.

“[That correlation] is almost twice as large as if you were Black, Republican, Democrat, Hispanic, or even have an underlying health condition,” said John Bridgeland, founder of the Covid Collective, a group working to reduce vaccine hesitancy. “So, it’s a group that is clearly very hesitant.”

A PBS poll last week showed that around half of U.S. men who identify as Republican say they have no plans to get the vaccine. That’s compared to approximately 30 percent of Americans overall who say they would decline the shot. Around 87 percent of Democrats surveyed said they would get the shot or had already gotten it.

Bridgeland says at the beginning of the pandemic there was understandably a great deal of focus on hesitancy within communities that were hardest hit by the disease, like Black and Latino communities. But, he says, as new data emerges, it becomes clear that White conservatives are also hesitant to get vaccinated. He says it’ll be important to make sure the issue of getting vaccinated doesn’t get politicized, like what happened to wearing a mask.

“We have to appeal to the fact that the best way to emerge with more freedom – to see our friends and family, go to church, baseball games, work – is to get the facts and make the choice, hopefully get vaccinated so we can all return to a better life,” Bridgeland said.

The analysis of vaccine data also shows that Black residents are continuing to lag behind in the vaccine rollout. Data from nearly every parish shows Black residents under-vaccinated compared to their overall share of the population.

“It's a very complex issue,” Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana State Health Officer, said. “Clearly, there [are] access issues. Clearly, people who are in marginalized communities have had less access to the vaccine, as they've had less access to health care. There are areas of the state that are healthcare deserts, people who have limited access to internet. They're nothing new. They're the reasons why we see such inequity in health care.”

And the vaccine disparities are especially pronounced in the eight parishes that voted for Biden and where half of Louisiana’s Black population lives. In these parishes, which include New Orleans and East Baton Rouge, the percentage of Black residents who have been vaccinated — 39 percent- is 13 points lower than the group’s overall share of the population — 52 percent.

The analysis of available public health data is a snapshot in time. As states loosen requirements for vaccine eligibility and more supply becomes available, the data for who has — and hasn’t — received vaccination will change over time. But public officials say the data points out trends that need to be addressed now.

“We expected there to be some racial disparities in the vaccine rollout because there were racial disparities in COVID; there were racial disparities before COVID and there's a lot of earned mistrust in that community,” Kanter said. “The political disparities weren't as predicted.”

Patrick Madden joined WWNO in 2019 as its first-ever Regional News Director, overseeing news reporting at WWNO, as well as our partner station WRKF Baton Rouge. Madden also serves as one of the hosts of Louisiana Considered, and co-hosts Friday's Politics Roundtable on Louisiana Considered with Stephanie Grace, columnist for The Times-Picayune | The Advocate.
Bobbi-Jeanne Misick is the justice, race and equity reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson. She is also an Ida B. Wells Fellow with Type Investigations at Type Media Center.
Shalina Chatlani is the health care reporter for the Gulf States Newsroom, a collaboration between NPR, WWNO in New Orleans, WBHM in Birmingham, Alabama and MPB-Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson.

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