Barnegat Light, NJ – Karsten Moran/The New York Times
Ocean County, in central New Jersey, is a mixture of beach towns like Barnegat Light and exurban towns like Toms River and Lakewood. Household income in the county exceeds the U.S. average.
Yet Ocean County is among the least vaccinated places in the Northeast. Only 53% of residents have received at least two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine (or one dose of Johnson & Johnson). Only 26% have received a booster shot.
The large number of unvaccinated residents in Ocean County has led to a horrific amount of COVID illness and death. Nearly 1 out of every 200 residents has died from the virus. That is worse than the toll in Mississippi, the U.S. state with the largest amount of COVID death per capita, and worse than in any country except for Peru.
What explains the vaccine skepticism in Ocean County? Politics, above all. The county is heavily Republican. Donald Trump won it by almost 30 percentage points in 2020, and many Republicans — including those who are older than 65 and vulnerable to severe COVID illness — are skeptical of the vaccines…
Only after the vaccines became widely available, in early 2021 — and liberals were much more willing to get shots than conservatives — did COVID become a disproportionately Republican illness. By the summer of 2021, the gap was soaring.
The toll has been even worse in counties where Trump won by a landslide than in counties that he won narrowly.
It is a tragedy — and preventable.