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Published: Aug 26, 2021 14 min read
United States map with Covid 19 vaccines syringe
Money; Getty Images

Before COVID-19 vaccines were available, poor people in America were much more likely than the wealthy to get sick and die from the virus. Now that vaccines are here, a Money analysis found that residents of low-income states are much less likely to be getting vaccinated.

This is the case even though vaccine shots are free and have been promoted from coast to coast for months, and even as hospitalizations spike in many of these same low-income states due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Why are the groups that seem particularly vulnerable to the virus often the ones who aren't getting the vaccine? Money took a deep look at publicly available health and U.S. Census Bureau data and talked to public health experts about the complicated mix of personal beliefs and structural barriers that have stood in the way — and what might be done to overcome them.

Vaccination rates and income

There are plenty of reasons people give for not getting the shot. In multiple surveys, the most popular explanations have centered on fears about possible side effects. Many unvaccinated Americans also say that the pandemic has been exaggerated by the media. Still others are passing on the vaccine because they believe in unfounded conspiracy theories, like the one that the U.S. is using the vaccine to plant microchips in the population.

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Yet for some people, it's less of a choice. Many lower-income Americans face complications and barriers, ranging from minimal public transit to the absence of childcare and paid sick leave, that make it far more difficult to even be in a position to make the decision to get vaccinated.

What's readily apparent in the data is a link between income levels and vaccination rates. It's by no means a direct cause-and-effect relationship, but a very strong correlation nonetheless.

If you look at states' median household incomes and their vaccination rates side by side, you'll quickly see some patterns. The states with higher incomes almost always have higher vaccination rates, while the poorer states are at the lower end of the spectrum for COVID-19 vaccinations.