As widely expected, just one day after the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved updated mRNA COVID-19 vaccines to help battle the XBB.1.5 strain of the disease, a panel of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advisors have also given the updated vaccine their blessing. All that's left now is for CDC director Mandy Cohen (who was newly appointed as of July 10th) to sign off on it in order for distribution to the general public to begin. Via NPR:

A panel of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backed the broad use of new COVID-19 vaccines, as cases of the respiratory illness rise.

The advisers voted 13-1 to recommend the vaccines for people ages 6 months and older. While the benefits appear to be greatest for the oldest and youngest people, the benefits of vaccination exceed the risks for everyone, according to a CDC analysis.

via the U.S. Food & Drug Administration:

FDA Takes Action on Updated mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines to Better Protect Against Currently Circulating Variants

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took action approving and authorizing for emergency use updated COVID-19 vaccines formulated to more closely target currently circulating variants and to provide better protection against serious consequences of COVID-19, including hospitalization and death. Today’s actions relate to updated mRNA vaccines for 2023-2024 manufactured by ModernaTX Inc. and Pfizer Inc. Consistent with the totality of the evidence and input from the FDA’s expert advisors, these vaccines have been updated to include a monovalent (single) component that corresponds to the Omicron variant XBB.1.5.

What You Need to Know

Back in 2021 when I was posting weekly (and later, monthly) analysis of COVID vaccination rates at the county level, several counties in particular caught my eye for different reasons. One of these was Marin County, California. As I noted at the time:

Of counties with more than 100,000 residents, the top-vaxxed are Marin County, CA (76.9% vaxxed); Sumter County, FL (76.4%); and Montgomery County, MD (76.2% vaxxed).

Ironically, prior to the COVID pandemic, ultra-liberal Marin County (Trump only received 16% of the vote here) happened to be one of the birthplaces of the recent "anti-vaxx movement" resurgence...

As explained by Soumya Karlamangla in the New York Times / Buffalo News last fall:

NOTE: With the news that the Johns Hopkins University COVID Tracking project & other reliable data sources are shutting down on March 10th, this may be the last update to this project, although I may be able to find alternatives for county-level COVID deaths.

As of this writing, 69.3% of the total U.S. population has completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series (including 94.3% of those 65+), but a mere 16.2% of the total population has also gotten their updated bivalent booster shot. Even among seniors it's only at 41.4% nationally.

NOTE: With the news that the Johns Hopkins University COVID Tracking project is shutting down on March 10th, this may be the second to last update to this project, although there are other outlets tracking county-level COVID deaths which will likely continue to do so.

As of this writing, 69.2% of the total U.S. population has completed their primary COVID-19 vaccination series (including 94.2% of those 65+), but a mere 15.8% of the total population has also gotten their updated bivalent booster shotEven among seniors it's only at 40.8% nationally.

As I noted earlier this week, there's been a lot of renewed buzz recently about an article at Vice Media regarding the partisan divide in COVID death rates over the past couple of years.

I admit to not really understanding why the Vice story is making the rounds this week in particular. The article is from mid-November, and the study by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research which it references was first published in early fact I wrote about it at the time.

The other thing which caught my eye recently is this viral tweet:

Every 10 days, more that 8,000 unvaccinated Republican voters are dying of COVID-19, five times the rate for Democrats, who have had at least 2 vaccination shots.

(sigh) Last month I posted what I assumed would be my final update of the red/blue and vaccination-level COVID death rate breakouts, but apparently that wasn't meant to be. For one thing, the latest variant, XBB.1.5 (some are calling it "Kraken" but I don't think that's anything official) has reared its head in the northeast. For another, there's been a renewed interest (at least on Twitter, anyway) in an article at Vice Media about the topic.

I'll be posting a second entry addressing that article, the study it cites, and some misinformation about the red/blue divide later this week, but first, let's take a look at where things stand as of mid-January.

OK, I really, really wasn't planning on updating these graphs yet again; it takes forever and I more than made my point with weekly/monthly updates for a solid year and a half period.

But then...this morning, NY Times columnist & Nobel Prize-winning economics professor Paul Krugman prominently featured my most recent COVID Death Rate by Partisan Lean & Vaccination Rate analysis from September in his latest column, so I figured what the hell and decided to dust off my spreadsheet one more time.

I already knew going into this update that the divides in Red/Blue COVID death rates and likely as well as in Vaccination Rate COVID death rates have shrunk over the past few months, for several reasons: First, the overall COVID death rate has dropped dramatically since the summer (which is obviously a good thing); it's been averaging between 300 - 400 per day since mid-October.

A couple of days ago, in Part 1, I looked at whether or not the massive COVID death rate divide between Republicans & Democrats between the 2020 and 2022 elections ended up being enough to be a decisive factor in any statewide races.

My conclusion was that there's likely to only be one statewide race* where a Republican candidate loses by less than the COVID death margin: The Nevada Senate race where, as of this writing, incumbent Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto is trailing Republican challenger Adam Laxalt by less than 800 votes. I estimate that somewhere between 900 - 2,400 more Trump voters than Biden voters died of COVID-19 over the past two years, so if Laxalt ends up losing by less than 2,400 votes, I'd say it's pretty likely that yes, the partisan gap in COVID deaths did indeed play a small but critical role.

I posted my final analysis of the potential impact of the COVID death rate divide between Republicans & Democrats on 2022 midterm election results back in September.

According to official CDC data, around 815,000 Americans died of COVID-19 between 10/31/20 - 09/10/22. Of those, I had estimated that perhaps 569,000 had actually voted for Biden or Trump. The total number has tragically risen by around 7,000 more since mid-September, which means the number of 2020 voters who've died is also likely around 4,900 higher.

Nationally, Joe Biden received 81,283,501 votes to Donald Trump's 74,223,975 votes. If COVID impacted both voting blocs at identical rates, you'd normally expect roughly 9.5% more Biden voters to have died of COVID over the past 2 years than Trump voters...or roughly 25,000 more Biden voters.