The mask mandate is back and Republicans are to blame, at least according to the mainstream media, the Biden Administration, and supposed health experts

What are the facts behind the uptick in cases, vaccination rates, and breakthrough infections for those already vaccinated?  If you’ve been paying attention for the past 16 months, it probably won’t surprise you to learn we’re being lied to again, told an incomplete narrative for political purposes.

Republican refusal to vaccinate against coronavirus is literally killing Americans, or at least the mainstream media has declared it so.  The Washington Post opines, “Republicans unleashed a deadly vaccine skepticism,” proclaiming it the “new political geography of sickness and death.”  NBC News says “Conservative hostility to Biden vaccine push surges with Covid cases on the rise.”  US News and World Report claims it’s “A Deadly Political Divide.”  CNN’s Brian Stelter said Americans are starting to get fed up with recalcitrant Republicans refusing to take the vaccine.  This meme has taken over social media as well, complete with accusations Republicans are responsible for the spike in cases of the Delta variant over the past month, and any blood is on their hands.

This conclusion is based on two underlying claims.  First, Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated than Democrats, including Republican led states.  Second, the vaccinated are protected from the Delta variant and are not driving the increase in hospitalizations and death.  There is at least some truth to these claims, at least on the surface.  Republican led states do tend to have lower rates of vaccination, some substantially so.  The vaccine does provide protection from Delta, though likely not nearly as much as claimed, and you are more likely to be hospitalized or even die without it.  At the same time, the whole story is a lot more complicated than an easy political talking point designed mainly to score actual points in the latest news cycle, and politicians and the media have been playing a bit fast and loose with the truth, shocking, I know.

For starters, much has been made of the claim by Biden Administration officials that the pandemic is now a danger exclusively for the unvaccinated.  The Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, said on July 22, “99.5 percent of Covid deaths and 97 percent of hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated.”  The good Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked point black by NBC News’ Chuck Todd earlier this month.  “It’s disconcerting to realize that we have nearly 10,000 people die of COVID in this most recent month that we have completed in June.  How preventable were each one of those deaths?  And how many of them were unvaccinated?”  Dr. Fauci replied, “Well, if you look at the number of deaths, about 99.2% of them are unvaccinated.  About .8% are vaccinated.  No vaccine is perfect, but when you talk about the avoidability of hospitalization and death, Chuck, it’s really sad and tragic that most all of these are avoidable and preventable.”

These numbers would be shocking and dramatic if accurate.  Unfortunately, like so much we’ve heard over the past 16 or so months, they’re not.  Note the specificity of the language.  Dr. Murthy says “are,” as in the deaths and hospitalizations happening right now.  Dr. Fauci says “most all of these are avoidable and preventable,” as in we could have avoided and prevented 99.2% of deaths.  Except these numbers are based on total deaths that have occurred throughout the entire pandemic, long before a vaccine was even available.  I’m a believer in the power of the vaccine, but I’m not aware of anyone claiming the medical miracle of mRNA technology is actually a time machine, capable of preventing deaths that have already occurred.  In short, they’re fudging the numbers, big time, at best, or outright lying at worst.

Of course, the CDC doesn ’ t report on these numbers with the needed transparency and the best we can do is make an estimate. Alex Berenson, writing on Substack, estimates the total number of vaccinated deaths to be around 3,000, putting the actual percentage between 5-10% of the total deaths since the vaccine has become widely available and people were able to get fully vaccinated, a process which takes about six weeks.  As Mr. Berenson notes, “Deaths began to fall in February. After March 1 – when only 1 in 13 Americans were fully vaccinated – they plunged further. In the five months since, perhaps 80,000 people have died from (or with) Covid – fewer than died in January alone.  Vaccine advocates rarely acknowledge the fact that deaths started dropping long before most people had received shots. In reality, even acknowledging that many people who received vaccines in January and February were older and vulnerable, seasonality and herd immunity seem to have had a greater impact on broad Covid trends than vaccinations.”  

Mr. Berenson backs these claims up with data from England, Scotland, and Ireland.  All three countries have higher vaccination rates than the United States, and all three suffered a spike from the Delta variant before the United States.  Vaccinated people account for about 50% of the recent deaths in those countries.  There is additional unpublished data in the United States that supports similar findings.  The CDC recently referenced a study that determined even vaccinated people carry the same viral load in their throat as unvaccinated when infected with the Delta variant, calling into question the efficacy of the vaccine. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday the viral load was “indistinguishable” based on a study of 100 samples.

This doesn’t mean the vaccine provides no protection, it certainly does, but perhaps not as much as has been claimed.  In Kentucky, for example, breakthrough infections are on the rise and now account for about 20% of cases.  WKU Public radio reports, “In June, the state reported 464 breakthrough cases. From July 1 through July 21, the state reported 1,007 breakthrough cases — already more than double the previous month.  The increase in breakthrough cases coincides with a rise in total cases due to the Delta variant, which state health experts say has become the dominant strain in the state and is around 2.5 times more transmissible than the first iteration of the virus. Kentucky also reported 50 COVID-19 deaths Thursday among vaccinated people out of a total of 447 deaths from March through July 2.”

Needless to say, these numbers are orders of magnitude higher than what health officials are claiming, certainly not small enough to be a mistake or simple error, meaning it’s intentional deceit.  This prompts the question:  If our public health officials are willing to lie about life and death, and the media is willing to parrot these numbers without doing any, you know, actual journalism, why would we trust the second pillar of the conclusion, that Republican refusal to get vaccinated is driving the sudden Delta surge?

Of course, we shouldn’t and, when we take a closer look, we find the numbers and the correlation to be a lot murkier than normally presented.  It is certainly true that Republican states have lower vaccination rates.  As of July 27, deep blue Vermont, home of Bernie Sanders, leads the nation with 67.34% vaccinated.  Massachusetts (63.6%), Maine, (63.17%), Connecticut (62.93%), and Rhode Island (61.07%) round out the top five, all blue states.   The first red state to appear on the list is Iowa (49.32%), followed by Nebraska (49.19%).  Florida sits at number 25 (48.46%) and then South Dakota (46.64%), Ohio (46.22%), Alaska (45.31%), and Kentucky (45.25%) are ranked 27 to 30 on the list.  The worst states for vaccination rates are all Republican led, with Alabama at the bottom of the pack at 34.08%, barely half of Vermont’s rate.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll and report provides additional evidence these states are lagging behind solely because of conservative resistance to the vaccine.  As of July 6, counties that voted for Biden had a 46.7% vaccination rate compared to 35% in those that voted for Trump; this gap has grown from 2% on April 22 to 11.7% in July.  In June, a Kaiser poll also found that 86% of Democrats reported getting at least one shot of the vaccine (the other numbers reported in this post are for those fully vaccinated with both shots) and only 52% of Republicans.  Clearly, there is some truth to the claim that Republicans are more hesitant to get vaccinated than Democrats.

At the same time, there are other groups that are also hesitant, and some of those groups certainly trend Democrat.  According to the CDC, Asians are the ethnic group with the highest vaccination rate at 62%.  Whites are at 47%, but Blacks and Hispanics lag even further behind, with Hispanics at 39% and blacks at 34%, meaning the entire black population is as unvaccinated as Alabama.  The Kaiser Family Foundation found that vaccination rates “remains uneven across the country. In particular, Black and Hispanic people have had persistently lower rates of vaccination compared to their White counterparts across most states. These lower vaccination rates leave Black and Hispanic people at increased risk for infection, illness, and death, particularly as new variants, like the Delta variant, spread.”  One wonders where the cries of concern are for Democrat led inner cities that are failing to get their residents vaccinated, but something tells me we will be waiting for a while for such an occurrence.

The next question, of course, is whether a state’s vaccination rate is predictive of the number of cases.  If there were a straight line between higher rates and lower case counts, it should be obvious in the daily reporting.  This is not immediately apparent, however.  California, for example, has fully vaccinated 52% of the population and partially vaccinated 64%, placing them in the top half of all states.  Unfortunately, they have not been protected from the Delta surge, with cases spiking 721% this month alone.  Florida is in the middle of the pack, but their cases have also spiked 617%.  Incredibly, Florida alone accounts for a much higher percentage of cases in the United States than the population would lead one to suspect.  For example, on July 23, they reported 27,514 new cases while the entire country reported 83,137, 33% of all cases.  Likewise, the 7-day average of cases is 10,452 in Florida and 56,535 nationwide, over 18%.

Ohio, on the other hand, has a vaccination rate lower than California and Florida, but has only seen a 250% increase in cases.  To be sure, we are seeing some of the highest spread in the least vaccinated states, with concentrations in Southern states, stretching from southeast Texas, up through Missouri and down to Florida.   However, we are also seeing spikes across the western states, California, New Mexico,and Arizona, all with reasonably high vaccination rates and not exactly Republican strongholds.  At the same time, the northern states, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Montana with middling rates do not seem to be experiencing the same trend.  All told, the virus is on the rise, week over week, in every single state.  The picture is even more confused by variations in the number of tests conducted per day per capita and reporting.  Florida, for example, is reporting numbers every other day or so, some states are doing it daily.

In summary, the vaccine appears to be slowing the spread somewhat, but it’s not nearly as predictive or as significant as its being made out by politicians and the media.  There are far more breakthrough infections than advertised and far more vaccinated people getting the virus.  This should not be surprising after the Delta variant wave in England, Scotland, and Ireland, all with high vaccination rates that seemed ineffective in stopping the surge.  On a more positive note, the increase in cases in all three countries levelled off and started precipitously declining much sooner than expected and some experts in the United States, including former Food and Drug Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, believe the same will happen here in the next 2-3 weeks.

In the meantime, the Biden Administration has reversed course from just a week ago and re-instated a mask mandate for even vaccinated people in indoor spaces.  Technically, there is a provision to restrict this new mandate to areas of high community spread, but the details are unclear and reports are that about 47% of the country would be required to mask up again in their opinion.

It probably goes without saying this is being depicted in the mainstream media as a decision firmly rooted in “science” and thus any detractors are playing politics with the truth.  CNN’s resident propagandist, Stephen Collinson, frames it this way, “A new political war over masks is already deepening the national divides that slowed vaccinations and thwarted what once seemed an imminent victory over the coronavirus pandemic.”  After former President Trump issued a statement saying, “Don’t surrender to COVID.  Don’t go back,” Mr. Collinson concludes, “If Trump’s faithful followers accept his advice on ignoring mask guidance again, more of them will likely get sick and die.”  To ensure there is no confusion on his position, “The latest GOP attacks were deeply ironic. Had more Republican leaders prioritized public health over politics and urged their voters to get vaccinated, the surge in new cases would likely have been avoided — meaning no reintroduction of measures to stem an again-accelerating pandemic.”

Of course, as California and Florida, England, Scotland, and Ireland, demonstrate, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that we could’ve entirely avoided this surge.

Beyond that, what does the science actually say?  Unfortunately, no one really knows:  As I mentioned earlier, the data on viral loads in vaccinated people has not been published yet.  It was less than a month ago when Biden was declaring victory over the virus, but Delta was certainly circulating then.  Otherwise, all we have are the spike in cases since.  Ironically, the 7 day average of new cases when they originally lifted the mandate on April 12 was 68,824.  This past Tuesday, it was 63,248, meaning they removed the mandate with more cases than we have right now.  Granted, we are seeing a dramatic increase in cases and that number is expected to rise, but even back in April cases were also on the rise, from 63,950 on April 4 to 71,397 on April 14.  Of course, it’s possible they know something we don’t and they’re afraid to say it, like perhaps the vaccine isn’t nearly as effective as advertised, a fact strongly suggested by the data here and Pfizer claiming we need yet another dose to handle Delta, but that would destroy the entire political narrative  and we certainly can’t have that.

Instead, we have a spike in cases with an unknown cause, one which data from the United Kingdom indicates is temporary and manageable.  Plus, we have a dramatic change in policy with no real explanation, another political fight, and messaging even The New York Times called confusing, saying “The C.D.C. has both a polarization problem and a communication problem.”  Amazingly, we still have a mainstream media claiming Biden is doing a heckuva job on the virus and following the science, despite completely reversing course.  It was a week ago when I wrote that we must resist this new round of restrictions.  Well, it’s here and if masks are back, why not the rest of the lockdowns?  Sydney, Australia, for example, has been in full lockdown for four weeks and they just added another four.

If you think that can’t happen here, you haven’t been paying attention.

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