Rural vaccinations rise but still lag behind cities
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Although vaccination rates in rural America have lagged behind those in urban areas, they’ve recently been on the rise. That corresponds with increasing COVID-19 infections and some hospitals in rural areas running out of ICU beds.
There are other reasons for the uptick: rural influencers and community organizers are persuading neighbors to roll up their sleeves.
Joyce Barlow started knocking on her neighbor’s doors in rural Randolph County, Georgia, earlier this year to talk about the COVID vaccine. “There was still that hesitancy,” said the registered nurse, who tried to convince others about the vaccine’s safety.
“For people to understand and to know and to see that I’m doing fine,” Barlow said. “I’ve got my card to show you. If you think I’m joking, I’ve had the vaccination.”
In rural Weld County, Colorado, podcaster Chris Garcia appears in social media ads targeting the Spanish-speaking community: “Hazlo por tus padres, hazlo por tu familia: Get vaccinated.”
Patricia Lepiani runs Colorado’s Department of Health vaccine outreach campaign and said having local fire chiefs, farmers and doctors spread the word is important in rural areas.
“Because I will trust more someone that is in my community than a person that is living in Denver,” Lepiani said.
This kind of outreach seems to be one reason why some rural Americans are changing their minds, said Alex Arnon with the Penn Wharton Budget Model.
“There’s been a, you know, sharper uptick recently,” Arnon said.
In late August, rural counties saw the largest weekly vaccination increase since mid-July, according to the Center for Rural Strategies. Rural economies have a lot on the line here, said Arnon.
“Rural areas are very exposed to some of the indirect effects of the pandemic. So, for instance, oil and gas extraction are really important parts of many rural economies,” he said, adding that those sectors have been hit hard.
Overall, rural vaccination rates still lag behind those of cities. Nationwide, as of late August, about 38% of rural residents were fully vaccinated, compared to around half in metro areas.
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