Which states are least ready for a pandemic?

Many experts say we are “due” for a pandemic.

From Ebola, to SARs, to the current Coronavirus, every year it seems there is some new virus all over the news. While there is no evidence or reason to believe we are currently on the cusp of an emerging pandemic, it does make you wonder “How would the US handle a pandemic?” The answer? It’s complicated. For one, the United States is made up of fifty states with different levels of funding, preparation, and healthcare infrastructure.

We examined CDC funding, vaccination rates, uninsured populations, and other key metrics to explore the states that are least ready for a pandemic.

Here are the states least equipped to handle a pandemic:



  • Total CDC Funding Per Capita
  • Population Density
  • Vaccination Rate
  • Uninsured Rate
  • Hospitals Per Population
  • Flu/Pneumonia Deaths Per 100k

The first area we looked at was total CDC funding per capita. While each state has their own disease fighting organization, the CDC’s support for these organizations is crucial to their effectiveness. It stands to reason that the more money from the CDC, the readier a state is for a pandemic.

After that we looked at population density using data from the ACS. Neighbors are great- until they have a contagious virus. The more people in close proximity, the quicker a virus can spread.

We looked at vaccination rate in each state using data from the World Population Review. While current vaccines will not provide resistance against the next pandemic, they do show a state’s medical access and willingness to follow sound medical advice. For similar reasons we took into account a state’s rate of uninsured residents from the ACS. In the early days of a pandemic, many without insurance may not seek medical help and continue to spread the sickness to others.

To measure the capacity of a state to house and handle an extremely sick population, we pulled in hospitals per population from the Kaiser Foundation.

Finally, we examined the CDC’s data on 2017 flu and pneumonia death rates per 100,000. Sickness is complicated, but past record at containing the flu and aiding the sick may be one of the best predictors for ready a state is to handle other, more serious sickness.


Uninsured Rate: 10.7
CDC Funding Per Capita: $18.81
Vaccination Rate: 85.30%

North Carolina is one of the states least equipped to handle a pandemic of serious health epidemic. The Tar Heele State has low CDC funding, an unfavorable ratio of hospitals to patients, and a poor history of dealing with the flu.


Uninsured Rate: 7.4
CDC Funding Per Capita: $16.59
Vaccination Rate: 79.40%

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation. Close neighbors aren’t so great when they’re contagious. Throw in low CDC funding per capita and you see why the Garden State is the second least prepared state.


Uninsured Rate: 9.4
CDC Funding Per Capita: $18.98
Vaccination Rate: 75.50%

Missouri’s abysmal vaccination rate earned it the #3 spot. However, the state’s high rate of uninsured and poor health funding, mean that’s not the only issue the state faces when it comes to being ready to handle a health crisis.


Uninsured Rate: 5.4
CDC Funding Per Capita: $19.41
Vaccination Rate: 81.70%

While most New Yorkers have health insurance, they live close together. That density might make it a cultural center, but with low CDC funding a poor record of handling the flu, it also means in the right-wrong conditions the state could be a petri dish.


Uninsured Rate: 7.2
CDC Funding Per Capita: $19.61
Vaccination Rate: 80.90%

California is a great place to be healthy with beautiful beaches and exciting cities filled with opportunity. However, it’s not so great a place to be sick. While you have a decent chance of having health insurance, there are 108,725 people per hospital.


Uninsured Rate: 8.3
CDC Funding Per Capita: $17.11
Vaccination Rate: 78.60%

In 6th place is Indiana. Indiana has a vaccination rate of 78.6%. Which is the 8th lowest in the nation.


Uninsured Rate: 13.7
CDC Funding Per Capita: $26.50
Vaccination Rate: 78.80%

Georgia has the cards stacked against it in a pandemic or serious health crisis. 13.7% of residents are uninsured, which means they might ignore that cough until it’s serious business.


Uninsured Rate: 6.5
CDC Funding Per Capita: $17.90
Vaccination Rate: 80.50%

Ohio receives $17.90 per capita in CDC funding. That’s more than half of what Vermont gets.


Uninsured Rate: 7
CDC Funding Per Capita: $16.76
Vaccination Rate: 83.00%

Illinois is the 9th worst equipped state to handle a severe health crisis. Poor CDC funding and a dense population mean Illinois may have a hard time stopping sickness before it spreads.


Uninsured Rate: 11.2
CDC Funding Per Capita: $21.55
Vaccination Rate: 80.40%

Nevada has an 11.2% uninsured rate and a subpar record of stamping out the flu.


No one knows where the next pandemic will hit or exactly what it will look like. However, states with better funding and infrastructure will have a fighting chance at containment and treatment. While we all hope the next global sickness is far off (or never!), good preparation will be key. You can see the full data below and the states in the best position to stop a pandemic in its tracks.

States Least (And Most) Equipped To Handle A Pandemic

This article first appeared on Zippia.