Vaccines, the virus and American politics

Robert Bender    29 October 2021


See alsoLife expectancy: vaccines, antibiotics, infant mortality  by Robert Bender, 15 Nov


An American website that offers deep data analysis, posted some interesting charts mid-October on the connection between voting patterns in the 2020 presidential election, analysed by county (much finer detail than by state: only 50 states but 3,114 counties). The author accepts that 85% of people over 12 fully vaccinated is a fair target for achieving something like herd immunity.


He compared vaccination rates by county achieved in mid-October against the percentage of electors voting Democrat or Republican. In popular usage, Democrat areas are “blue” and Republican one are “red”.


The differences are very stark – the larger the percentage who voted Democrat (Biden for President), the higher the vaccination rates. As the chart below shows, in counties where only 10-20% supported Trump, over 60% had then been vaccinated, whereas in counties where over 90% voted for Trump, only a quarter of people had been vaccinated, a ratio of 2.4 to 1



He then had a look at the number of new covid cases per 100,000 people from 30 June 2021 to 16 September, so over 2½ months. Where under 10% voted for Trump, the record is of 1,100 cases per 100,000 population, whereas in counties that were over 90% pro-Trump, there were over 3,900 new cases, a ratio of 3.6 to 1.



He then examined deaths per 100,000 population by county over the same period. The “bluest” counties, where under 10% supported Trump, recorded under 5 deaths per 100,000 people, while the counties where over 90% supported Trump recorded 41.5 deaths per 100,000, a ratio of 8.6 to 1.



Gaba then tried to remove any distortion resulting from the central columns having far more people than the outliers at each end. He set up categories with as close as he could manage to having equal population sizes, to see what that did to the distribution of virus cases and deaths per 100,000 people. As you can see the 40 to 50% column had almost 85 million people whereas the under 10% column had under 2 million people and the over 90% column had only 116,000 people in them. He rearranged them so each group had about 33 million people and thus about a tenth of the population



So, what did the rearrangement do to the progression of Trump supporters having more Covid cases? The differences were reduced, and the growth towards the right of the chart less even, but the pattern was pretty much the same – a growth from 1,278 cases per 100,000 people in the “Lowest 10th” to 3,681 in the “highest 10th”, a ratio now of 2.9 to 1, a bit less than the original 3.6 to 1, but still a very clear progression.



A similar rearrangement into tenths of the population for deaths per 100,000 people had a similar impact on the chart – the ends less far apart and the growth less even, but still the same clear progression to far more deaths among the Trump-supporting end of the population, growing from 7.3 deaths per 100,000 people to 34.9 deaths at the other end, a ratio of 4.8 to 1. Less dramatic than the original 8.6 to 1 but still a very clear difference.



Finally, he redistributed the vaccination rates into tenths of the population and again it reduced the extreme differences between Democrat and Republican counties. The vaccinated percentages range from 61% in the most Democrat tenth, to 37% in the most Republican tenth, again a less dramatic difference.



As some of the comments inserted by readers note, there are underlying differences in affluence and poverty levels, age distributions, racial distributions, between all these 3,114 counties, but the overall pattern is still very clear: voting for Trump was life-threatening.


You can check the original blog post for yourself -



Life expectancy: vaccines, antibiotics, infant mortality

Robert Bender  15 November 2021


A story in The Age 5 Nov. about life expectancy in Australia having marginally lengthened (0.3 of a year since 2017) motivated me to explore further. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website has tables of statistics on the history of life expectancy for Australia since 1891, and recent comparisons with other OECD countries.


The essence of the issue is that as one grows from infancy through childhood, through early adulthood to middle age and old age, one passes through phases at which one survives the risks of each age range. Those who survive infancy and don’t succumb to childhood diseases then have a greater life expectancy than they did at birth, as those who didn’t survive those risks are no longer included in the calculations. So how has this changed in the 130 years since 1891?


Males in Australia



The chart shows that at birth, life expectancy for males was 50.9 years in 1891, shot up to 67.9 years by 1960, and to 80.9 years in 2017. The big leap was in the first period from 1891 to 1960. By 1960 most of the infant vaccines against diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, etc, had been developed and nearly all Australian infants were being routinely vaccinated, so lethal childhood diseases had been almost eradicated. Infant mortality had reduced to a very low level. Survival through the dangerous first year was very high. The first generation of anti-biotics had begun to protect children from the deadly infectious diseases. And there had been a big move from farm and country to cities, where many of the risks of country life did not apply. Child nutrition was immensely better in the post-war years than at any earlier time.


It continued to rise to a figure of 80.9 years in 2017, again with even better anti-biotics, better infant nutrition, the Salk polio vaccine, vastly improved medical services and even more urbanisation in our already very urbanised community. So the life prospects of newborns rose by 16.8 years between 1891 and 1960 and by a further 13 years by 2017. A very much larger percentage of newborns survive their first year than was the case in the 1890s, essentially a story of vaccines, anti-biotics, better nutrition and a safer community.


As you move to the right across the chart, the rises in life expectancy become smaller – still very impressive at age 1, but very little improvement at age 65 between 1891 and 1960, then in the following 60 years life expectancy at 65 shot up by 7.5 years. How to explain this? A good deal of it comes from reduced cigarette-smoking by adults, which used to kill off many people in their 60s who had taken up smoking in their teens. And other lifestyle diseases also reduced, such as skin cancers since the Slip Slop Slap campaign from the 1970s, and increased safety since the mandatory seatbelts and crash helmets were taken up in the 1960s and 1970s.


After age 85, the rise in life expectancy has been quite small since 1891, only 2.6 years, and at age 95 the increase has been tiny, under a year. So we still have not solved the problems of very advanced old age and may well be reaching the limit of lifespan. The big difference is that far more of us get there now.



Looking at it all another way, the 1891 chart shows a steady increase in life expectancy as males passed the various crises at each life stage. There were quite large increases except between ages 15 and 25 – the transition from school to work was much earlier in those days, when very few went past the minimum school leaving age of 14, so nearly all 15-year-olds were already out in the workforce. So at each life stage there were significant risks and a significant death rate. When those who succumbed to the risks of each stage died off, the survivors could be expected to live much longer.



The 1960 chart shows almost zero rise in life expectancy once children passed infancy, the first real increase being between 45 and 65. By then, the first generation of vaccines had done its magic, almost every child survived its first year and there were no new serious risks until after age 45 – many cancers killed people in the 1960s and the 5-year survival rate for many of them was very poor.



The 2017 chart shows even less gain from surviving one’s first year, the columns not growing significantly until after 65. Again, the combination of vaccines and antibiotics and a much-improved safety culture meant nearly everybody survived to 65.



Looking at it another way again, the rise in life expectancy at each life-stage was very large between 1891 and 1960 for infants and very young children, but rapidly shrank as people moved through adolescence and adulthood. So this period was mainly about conquering infant mortality.


But between 1960 and 2017 the columns are tall for each age group up to 65 – again, widespread vaccination, improved nutrition, seatbelts and crash helmets, better roads, safer cars, blood-alcohol legislation, workplace safety legislation, safer air travel. So this period was about conquering the risks of adolescence and adulthood up to age 65. After that the columns are quite small still, though much larger gains after 1960 than before, as we have begun to tackle the risks of old age.



One last way of looking at it. The rise in life expectancy at each life-stage for the three periods studied in the data show quite tall columns at every life stage in 1891 – there was only one vaccine, against smallpox, and no anti-biotics, and every age had big risks. The 2017 data shows almost no increase in life expectancy between 1 and 65. Which means the eradication of the many deadly infant diseases by the early vaccines happened so long ago that almost nobody now alive can remember a time when people had 5 children and buried 3 of them before the children reached their 10th birthdays – we live in a world in which vaccines (and anti-biotics) have ensured that just about all children survive into old age.


Which is part of the issue underlying the current quirky “vaccine hesitancy” – there being no living memory of truly deadly pandemics, so almost nobody can remember how deadly those diseases used to be and many people make very poor judgements about the risks of accepting a vaccine as against the risks of remaining unvaccinated.


In the 1950s and 1960s, when the infant diseases were still quite common, nobody had any doubt about the enormous benefit of vaccines, almost guaranteeing that children would outlive their parents. Along with the contraceptive pill, it has probably been a big factor in the declining birth-rate – people don’t need to have 5 children to ensure that one of them survives to adulthood.



The AIHW website has a table of current life expectancies for males and females in 10 countries, including Australia. They are almost identical, females outlasting males by an average of 5% of lifespan (4.4 years) in all countries, and all having male life expectancy at 80-81 and female at 84-87. The story I have spun above is common to all these countries – all the Europeans plus Israel and Japan.