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The articles from Inside Politics With Steve Harrison appear first in his weekly newsletter, which takes a deeper look at local politics, including the latest news on the Charlotte City Council, what's happening with Mecklenburg County's Board of Commissioners, the North Carolina General Assembly and much more.

Are COVID-19 Vaccination Rates As Simple As Republicans vs. Democrats?

COVID-19 vaccine
News & Record / via Gov. Roy Cooper
Guilford County Health & Human Services registered nurse Sydney Robinson administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a client at the Mount Zion Baptist church vaccination clinic in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, February 11, 2021.

The Associated Press recently noted that states won by Joe Biden have a higher percentage of people getting vaccinated for COVID-19 than states won by former President Trump.

The AP reported: “Out in front is New Hampshire, where 65% of the population age 18 and older has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Following close behind are New Mexico, Connecticut, Maine and Massachusetts at 55% or greater. All have a history of voting Democratic and supported President Joe Biden in the 2020 election.”

The news organization also said: “Meanwhile, at the bottom are five states where fewer than 40% have rolled up their sleeves for a shot. Four of them — Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee — lean Republican and voted for Donald Trump last fall. The fifth is Georgia, which has a Republican governor and supported GOP presidential candidates for nearly three decades before narrowly backing Biden.

The AP story notes that polls have shown Republicans to be more vaccine-hesitant than Democrats. It doesn’t mention that some African Americans are wary about being vaccinated, although recent polls show vaccine hesitancy is declining among Black Americans.

The five worst-performing states per the AP analysis are also some of the states with the highest percentage of Black residents. Mississippi is the worst-performing state in terms of vaccine performance; it also has the highest percentage of African American residents. Louisiana has the second-highest percentage of Black residents, and it’s in the bottom five in terms of vaccine performance.

And New Hampshire? It’s one of the whitest states in the Union, where less than 1% of residents are Black.

That is not to say that African Americans are the main reason some states are lagging in vaccines. But it could be a factor.

Louisiana residents could be grouped two ways: Black Democrats and white conservatives. There is no significant constituency of white Democrats – the group that’s most enthusiastic about getting jabbed.

And what about North Carolina? Are politics at play here?

A county-by-county map of vaccine rates shows very little pattern, either based on politics or race.

Here is how the state voted in the 2020 presidential race:

North Carolina State Board of Elections
How each county voted in the 2020 presidential election (red counties went for Trump; blue counties went for Biden).

And here are the current vaccination rates by county:


Some blue North Carolina counties have done very well getting people vaccinated. Orange County – which gave Biden 75% of the vote – is one of the best-performing counties in terms of vaccinations, with nearly 45% of the population at least partially vaccinated.

The same goes for Buncombe County (Asheville), Guilford County (Greensboro) and Wake County (Raleigh). They are very blue counties – with above-average vaccination rates.

But that’s also true for very red counties.

Madison County north of Asheville gave Trump 61% of the vote. More than 36% of its residents have had at least one shot. That’s above the state average of 29%.

Brunswick County, near Wilmington, gave Trump 62% of the vote. It’s one of the best-performing counties with 39% of adults having received at least one shot.

The mountains and coastal areas are very conservative – but also doing well with vaccinations.

One possible reason: They are older areas than the state overall. When vaccines were limited to those 65 and older, that gave them a head start.

One mystery: Why is the Charlotte area lagging?

Mecklenburg County (26% of adults receiving one shot) is below the state average – along with Gaston (23%), Iredell (23%), Union (23%) and Cabarrus (22%) counties.

WSOC explored this last month. The TV station said that Mecklenburg County health director Gibbie Harris said, “The county got off to a slow start for being one of the first to host mass vaccination events. At the time, vaccinations weren’t widely available everywhere. The mass vaccination events attracted, and continue to attract, people living in all parts of the state. When someone receives a shot, they are counted in their home county’s figures, not the county they received the COVID-19 vaccine.”

According to Harris, the state was prioritizing central North Carolina for COVID-19 vaccine allocation. That is about to change, she says. North Carolina DHHS has revised the allocation process to focus more on counties with lower vaccination rates.

Vaccines are now widely available in Mecklenburg County, which Biden won easily with 67% of the vote.

Will more people sign up for shots?

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.