In the United States, more than 204 million people are fully vaccinated, but that still represents only 62% of the population, far less than in most other wealthy countries.
At the county level, vaccination rates vary from around 83% in places like Montgomery County, Md., A populated area just outside of Washington, DC, to around 15% in rural places like McPherson County in northern South Dakota.
As the Omicron variant rises and experts say vaccinations offer strong protection against serious disease, U.S. public health officials are looking closely at ways to reach less vaccinated areas. But roadblocks are not the same everywhere. Some clearly have to do with politics: Republican-leaning areas have generally lagged behind vaccines. But the pockets of the country can have their own quirks unrelated to partisanship.
Here’s a look at the challenges facing three counties where, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country. (Figures shown for these counties may differ from CDC data due to differences in methodology, reporting delays, and other factors.)
LaGrange County, Ind.
Vaccine resistance is not new in LaGrange County, a rural area along the Indiana-Michigan border. Only 22% of residents are fully immunized against the coronavirus and, according to Dr Tony Pechin, the county health worker, only 15% of the county’s children are up to date with their standard vaccines by the age of 2.
Dr Pechin said he has encountered the usual vaccine conspiracy theories and even some long-time patients would disregard his advice on getting the vaccine.
But the most important factor, he said, is that about half of the county’s 40,000 residents are Amish, a group that overwhelmingly rejects vaccines. Among non-Amish residents, he said, the vaccination rate is 45-48%.
Dr Pechin said a pharmacy frequented by Amish residents was among the first in LaGrange County to receive doses, but had only vaccinated eight people in six months.
The state health commissioner sent a delegation to meet with Amish leaders in the spring, and the CDC sent another over the summer.
“When they were done,” Dr Pechin said of the envoys, “they called me and just said, ‘Good luck, Tony’. “
Cameron Parish, La.
When Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron Parish in August 2020, many residents left damaged homes behind and took refuge inland – and have yet to return.
According to the CDC, the vaccination rate is only 17%. But Louisiana health officials say those numbers don’t account for the shift in population.
“Although the numbers look horrible, they are not as bad as they seem, due to an influx of people from natural disasters,” said Dr Lacey Cavanaugh, regional health officer for the Department of Louisiana Health.
But if the statistics were calculated to reflect current populations in Cameron Parish and others ravaged by recent storms, she said, they would likely still show vaccination rates below national averages. Laura destroyed much of the parish’s limited health infrastructure, so for months health officials administered vaccines in a tent in a hospital parking lot. And for residents consumed with home and business repair work, getting vaccinated has fallen low on the priority list.
State health officials have been working to bring vaccines directly to disaster recovery events and have informed residents that falling ill with Covid-19 could make the journey home even more difficult.
“Once you’re protected” from the virus, said Dr. Cavanaugh, “it’s one less thing to worry about. “
Winston County, Alabama.
A rural county with a history of going its own way – it refused to join Alabama by seceding from the Union during the Civil War – faces many challenges that have hampered government uptake of vaccines.
Misinformation about vaccines continues to spread on social media, said Dr Karen Landers, regional head of the state’s public health department, despite months of efforts with local leaders, faith-based organizations and community leaders. pharmacies. County vaccination rate has stagnated at around 21%, CDC says
Persuading young people that they are vulnerable to the disease and that they need a vaccine can be a particularly acute problem, she said. But Dr Landers said she remained determined: “We know not everyone will listen to us, but that does not alleviate our responsibility.”