Yankton Press & Dakotan. April 11, 2021.

Editorial: South Dakota Vaccinations And ‘Fortunate’ Timing?

The race to vaccinate Americans against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus took on curious dimensions for South Dakota this past weekend thanks to a national news story and a state press release.

On Saturday, CNN reported that analysis of national vaccination efforts showed the blue states — that is, states that backed Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 president election — are ahead of red states, which backed Republican Donald Trump, in getting people vaccinated. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46% of those 18 and older in states won by Biden have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while the number in states Trump won drop to 41%. This report matches up with various polls conducted in recent months that indicate Democrats are more likely to get vaccinate than Republicans, particularly GOP men.

However, South Dakota (along with fellow red state Alaska) is running against this trend, having one of the best vaccination rates in the country.

This was affirmed Saturday when the South Dakota Department of Health announced it reached a milestone by surpassing the 50% mark in having people ages 18 and older receiving at least one vaccination.

Why is South Dakota’s vaccination effort producing results when — according to voting patterns, at least — it should not? There is a lot of room for speculation.

One explanation is that the state has seemed to organize its vaccination rollout fairly well. Department of Health officials have given credit to Gov. Kristi Noem for giving them the latitude to create a system that has worked with vaccination partners statewide who have, in turn, worked to engage the public about vaccination opportunities and availability. This has become more evident as vaccine supplies have grown and become more dependable the past three months.

A lot of credit, too, must go to South Dakotans, who have so far largely embraced the need for the vaccine. While it may not necessarily mean the pace will continue as the willing come forward and the unwilling hold back, it does indicate that the vaccine is broadly popular.

And there is another possibility that may play into this situation.

South Dakota’s COVID case rate remained relatively low through much of the first few months of the pandemic while much of the nation was hit hard. Our surge — our darkest time — came in the second half of fall and early winter, when cases exploded and the death toll soared. (From Halloween to New Year’s Eve, the state’s COVID death toll exploded from 425 to 1,488, an increase of 350%.) For a time, South Dakota had some of the highest fatality and infection rates in the world.

In the midst of that pandemic storm here, the first vaccine was released, with a second following weeks thereafter. This was a great sign of hope coming in the wake of a bleak stretch — one that South Dakotans, reeling from the surge, may have more eagerly embraced because of fresh, painful memories.

Whatever the reason and whatever theories, the numbers don’t lie. South Dakota has been a vaccination leader in this country. While the pandemic has yet to run its course, and there may be more variant issues ahead, we can hopefully maintain that vaccination pace to some degree. It’s up to us, and so far, we’ve held up out end rather nicely.