Judge Shands, black Mississippians’ vaccine skepticism is NOT the crux of our COVID mess



Contrary to Shands’ assumptions, black Mississippians may actually be more vaccinated than white Mississippians. Get the facts below.


Earlier today, NEMISS.NEWS published Judge Rodney Shands’ rebuttal to Steve Patterson’s excellent opinion piece, published last week. Both Judge Shands and Mr. Patterson covered a lot of ground, ranging from COVID, to climate change, to national and state politics. Personally, I found much to disagree with in Judge Shands’ piece. But Mr. Patterson is far better-equipped than I to respond to those points, should he care to, at a time of his choosing.

However, there is one point in Judge Shands’ piece that I feel compelled to forcefully (and factually) push back on, and without undue delay, for reasons that will become apparent. Fortunately for me (and our readers), this won’t take long.

First, let’s consider this portion of Shands’ piece:

“Nevertheless, it is known that the two groups who have been the most reluctant to get vaccinated are Latinos and blacks. I watched NBC News ask various Americans if they intended to get the shot a few months ago and the majority of black Americans said “no”. One said “That would be a hard no”. With a virus, you either get the shot or you get the virus. The odds of missing the virus without any protection other than a mask are slim to none and slim left town a while ago.

Mississippi has the highest percentage of black citizens per capita so if they don’t get the vaccine, our Covid numbers go sky high. With the historical reluctance to get shots due, in large part, to the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study between 1932 and 1972, when governmental researchers withheld treatment while promising free medical care, meals and burial insurance, this is understandable. This is not a Republican Governor’s fault. He has encouraged vaccinations and in reality, that’s about all he can do.”

Here, Shands has fallen victim to some deeply problematic assumptions, which can ensnare anyone. Most widely-held assumptions are based more on hype than facts. What I specifically object to here is Shands’ attempt to provide political cover for Gov. Reeves’ many COVID failings by shifting the blame onto black people’s vaccine hesitancy. Unfortunately, scapegoating the least powerful to defend the most powerful is nothing new in Mississippi politics.

But more to the point, a few simple Google searches reveal that Shands is also dead wrong on his facts when it comes to Mississippi. While it’s true that nationwide, black people are slightly more vaccine hesitant than white people, what you don’t often hear is that black people are far less vaccine hesitant than white Republicans! And in Mississippi, that’s a distinction that definitely makes a difference.

Just how wrong is Shands’ assumption?

According to the most recent (2019) estimates, Mississippi’s population is roughly 59.1% white and 37.8% black. And guess what? Data from the state health department (on August 27) shows that white Mississippians have received about 57% of the total number of vaccines given out in our state, while black Mississippians have received 38% of them.

Assuming those 2019 population estimates are still close to right, that means that black Mississippians are slightly ahead of white Mississippians in getting their vaccines! Even if those numbers have shifted somewhat since 2019, black Mississippians are, at worst, more-or-less on par with white Mississippians as vaccinations go.

Of course, no group in Mississippi is hitting it out of the park when it comes to vaccines. But Mississippi’s COVID problem is most certainly NOT a race problem. It’s a political problem, for which Gov. Reeves takes much of the blame.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some maps …

Below are three maps that debunk Shands’ defense of Gov. Reeves, county-by-county. I apologize for the image quality. Unlike my 70+ year-old mother, I am no Photoshop wizard. Also, I cannot embed the interactive versions of these maps on our site. But, as always, I encourage our readers to visit my sources, for which you will find links below each map.

Our first map shows the percentage of black residents by county as of 2019. The lighter blue counties have the largest white majorities and the darker blue have the largest black populations.

Black vs. white population with darkest blue having largest black majorities and lightest having largest white majorities. Info sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program (PEP). Updated annually. Link to interactive map: https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/mississippi/black-population-percentage#map

The second map shows vaccination rates by county in Mississippi (as of Aug. 30). The light blue counties are the least-vaccinated and the dark blue are the most-vaccinated. You’ll notice some of our “whitest” counties are also some of our least-vaccinated.

Most and least vaccinated counties in Mississippi. Info sources: State and county health departments, CDC. Link to interactive map: https://data.news-leader.com/covid-19-vaccine-tracker/mississippi/28/ 


And no, Gov. Reeves is NOT off the hook…

The third map shows the counties that voted for Gov. Reeves in 2019. If you visit the source link and scroll over each county, you’ll start to notice that the counties where Reeves won overwhelmingly (70% +) track pretty closely with the least-vaccinated counties. Conclusion? Mississippi’s COVID crisis is not a “black” or “white” problem. It’s a “red” or “blue” problem.

The red counties went for Gov. Reeves, and the blue counties went for his Democrat opponent Jim Hood. Info source: Associated Press via WLBT.com. Link to interactive map: https://www.wlbt.com/2019/11/05/interactive-map-governor-votes-by-county/


  — Liz Shiverdecker

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