COLUMBUS, Ohio — A study conducted by Yale University looked into Ohio and Florida's low COVID-19 vaccination rates among residents and found potential links between political leanings and mortality.

The researchers discovered that after COVID-19 vaccines were widely distributed, the death rate in Republican-leaning counties was 43% higher compared to counties dominated by Democratic voters.

What You Need To Know

  • The study was conducted by Yale University researchers and was published in JAMA Internal Medicine

  • The study found potential links between political leanings and death rates after the COVID-19 vaccine was readily available to all adults

  • Republican lawmakers in Ohio say there could be many reasons to why mortality rates were higher in some areas, rather than others

  • The Ohio Dept. of Health emphasizesthe importance of getting vaccinated, especially for those 65 or older

"Our study finds that the excess death rate during COVID-19 was higher for Republican voters than Democratic voters, but only after vaccines were widely available," said Jacob Wallace, one of the study's authors, in a statement. 

However, critics of the study, including Republican State Representative Rodney Creech, suggest the findings could have been skewed.

"I would argue that the majority of the voters in the state of Ohio are registered independent and that it skews everything. And not only that, but, you know, age and preexisting health conditions play into it," said Creech.

Creech, an advocate for vaccination being a personal choice, has previously participated in protests against vaccine requirements for caregivers. He contends the fluidity of political affiliations makes them an unreliable measure.

"There are people that change their party affiliation all the time so they can vote in certain elections," Creech noted.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, more than 60% of Ohioans have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

In a statement issued in response to the study, it emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated, especially for those 65 or older, or anyone who is immunocompromised. The agency told Spectrum News staying up to date on vaccines can protect your overall health. 

"When you set up a study to look at death rates in counties with lower vaccination rates, knowing Republicans are less likely to be vaccinated, then of course more deaths will be Republicans in that county, because more Republicans live there. That’s not 'science,' that’s statistical manipulation," Stephanie Stock, president of Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom, said in a statement to Spectrum News. 

Despite criticism, Wallace stands by the research and its necessity, given the politicized response to COVID-19 over the years.

He mentioned that the team remains committed to understanding the causes of excess death rates during the pandemic, especially with rising case counts.

“As with all research, the study has faced some pushback. Part of the motivation for the project was how politicized the COVID-19 response has been over the past few years and the initial reactions to the study — both positive and negative — seem to reflect the worrisome trend towards viewing new information through a partisan lens," Wallace said in a statement to Spectrum News. "Despite the pushback, we remain committed to learning everything we can about the causes of excess death rates during COVID-19 as the pandemic remains a part of all our lives and, even as we speak, case counts appear to be on the rise again.”

State Representative Josh Williams suggested that political parties might have influenced people's decisions to get vaccinated to some extent. 

"I believe Republicans are going to be more skeptical of it," he said. "I think that's justified."

Williams further encouraged individuals, regardless of political affiliation, to conduct their own research.

"Do your research, and that's the way you should be about every medical decision, and not just vaccines," Williams said. 

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that the Yale study was done at an individual level. The previous version of this story said the study was conducted at a county level. (Aug. 7, 2023)