FARGO — A Washington Post analysis says North Dakota will be the second-to-last state to get 70% of its adults vaccinated against COVID-19. The Post, basing its prediction on the current rates of vaccinations, says the state will hit the mark in July 2022.

That isn't necessarily surprising, given North Dakota's rural landscape and political predilection. The state voted 65% for Donald Trump in 2020, getting more than 80% in some western counties.

North Dakota is politically and culturally right, going further right, and there is no sign of that trend slowing.

What should concern state leaders is the only state that is projected to cross the 70% threshold later than North Dakota is Mississippi.

Mississippi, which generally languishes near the bottom of every state ranking. Mississippi, which is among the unhealthiest, poorest, least educated, most backward states in the union.

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Mississippi, whose existence allows other unhealthy, poor, appallingly educated southern states to say, "Thank God for Mississippi!"

If there is a state you don't want to be associated with, it's Mississippi.

Yet there is North Dakota, near the bottom of the Post's chart, above only Mississippi.

This is not a good sign.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely

Don't mistake, North Dakota will not become the new Mississippi. It will probably always rank higher in education, income, infrastructure and opportunity. Mississippi has structural, historical and racial challenges North Dakota doesn't.

When Jim Crow purposely kept 40% of your state's population destitute and poorly educated for decades, it's not something you shrug off. If you even want to shrug it off, which remains an open question in Mississippi.

But North Dakota being associated with Mississippi's vaccination rates is alarming.

While some may boast that the hesitancy to get jabbed speaks toward the state's love of freedom and liberty, its stubborn streak of independence, it might also mean something else much less heroic.

Like a distrust of science.

Like a disdain of experts.

Like a dismissal of education.

Like a continued lurch to the right that results in misinformation supplanting facts and conspiracy theories overtaking common sense.

None of this is good for the state over the long haul, if it wants to compete with other states in the modern economy.

The last 30 years of political and cultural change have been fascinating to watch in North Dakota. In 1992, the state had a Democratic governor and Senate. Its three-person federal delegation was all Democrats. Even with that mix the state had a strong conservative bent (it hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964), but it was more common sense than evangelical far-right.

It was more Iowa than Deep South.

Now the reverse might be true.

North Dakota is not unique in this trend, of course. Most rural areas, even in allegedly liberal Minnesota, have raced down the same path (and have similarly low vaccination rates).

But as a state, Minnesota's population is balanced enough to make it purple.

North Dakota's neighborhood, at least in some ways, is colored the bright red of Mississippi.

If there's an upside to this, feel free to point it out.

Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at mmcfeely@forumcomm.com