May 25, 2024

Will rural Americans delay their recovery?

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Co-Publisher Grant County Herald

As COVID-19 cases and deaths are exploding in rural America, we received what should be exciting news. Drugmaker Pfizer announced Nov. 9 that a formal review of its vaccine’s clinical trials showed it to be 90 percent effective. So far, the company said there have been no serious safety concerns with its vaccine.

Even more encouraging, we’ve been told the vaccine could be available to our most vulnerable citizens by the end of the year. Widespread vaccinations against the deadly virus could start early next year. Moderna now says its vaccine has been 94.5 percent effective. Other companies are also near having their vaccines ready for approval by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA.) We are poised to finally defeat this deadly virus.

With nearly 250,000 Americans dead from the virus, and another nearly 200,000 projected to die by March, you would think people would be waiting in line with their sleeves rolled up. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Even if the vaccine were free, comes through its trials with fantastic outcomes, and is approved by the FDA, many Americans say they won’t get it. A recent survey showed that 65 percent say they would get it, but 35 percent saying they wouldn’t.

Where do the majority of that 35 percent who will refuse the vaccine live? Rural America. Red States. States where people refuse to wear masks. It is no mystery why these very same states and rural areas see the rampant spread of COVID-19.

On average, Gallup’s poll found that just over half of those living in rural areas are willing to get the vaccine. That means nearly half won’t.

Party affiliation has a strong influence on people’s faith in science and medicine. Gallup’s poll found that only 47 percent of Republicans would get the vaccine while 81 percent of Democrats would.

In the small rural Colorado town of Wray, CO, Dr. Lindsey Paulson is treating patients with COVID-19 symptoms and will be essential to convince her community to get vaccinated. She is not optimistic.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Paulson said, “I think that before we’re going to be able to convince our community to take a vaccine, we’re going to have to convince the community that COVID is a true public health concern. In a population where most people think that COVID is nothing more than a cold or a mild flu, we may have difficulty convincing folks that they need a vaccine for this illness.”

She is not alone in also pointing out that many of her rural residents have bought into the conspiracies floating around on the internet about the dangers of the vaccine. Microsoft’s Bill Gates plans to implant microchips in people; pharmaceutical companies will take tissue samples giving them your genetic makeup. Both claims are entirely false.

A few stumbles by some drugmakers with people participating in trials getting sick have diminished faith in a vaccine. Those companies briefly halted their trials to assess the problems and fixed them.

Others think the vaccine development is going too quickly, with safety sacrificed to win the financial rewards of being first on the market.

Paulson said it will be critical for the medical community to show local people that the vaccine is safe. “If the medical community in our town accepts the vaccines as safe and effective, if we’re willing to vaccinate our families, then I think there may be some community buyin,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to plan to utilize social media but also our local newspaper and then just word of mouth.”

Our medical community isn’t just fighting skepticism about a coronavirus vaccine. America recorded more measles cases in 2019 than it had in 27 years, with a growing number of people choosing not to get vaccinated for any diseases.

“There is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases specialist, says.

Again, blame the internet for the spread of ignorance and falsehoods.

We wish those who don’t take COVID-19 seriously could spend a day in a hospital overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients; could see the body bags leaving. Our ICU units and hospitals are near capacity. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are exhausted due to the non-stop demands. Medical staff are close to choosing between who will get an ICU bed and who won’t. 

If rural Americans refuse to get vaccinated in large numbers, rural America will lag in returning to our past lives. We will also see a lot more deaths in rural America, where our population is older.

“According to Johns Hopkins University, between 70 percent and 90 percent of Americans would need to have coronavirus antibodies to reach herd immunity,” The New York Post reported.

The vaccine is freedom from all the restrictions we have been living with, both those imposed by governments and those we impose on ourselves to stay safe and keep loved ones safe.

A vaccine is an economic stimulus that gets us back to work without the constant interruptions with employees quarantining or staying home with school children who are required to isolate.

The vaccine returns our children to the classroom. It allows college students to return to their campuses.

It gives us the worry-free opportunity to visit our older relatives and friends who are residents of assisted living facilities.

It’s the freedom to dine out again with friends.

A vaccine is a path required to take to return to pre-COVID lives.

A vaccine is freedom.

It’s not too early for the local medical and public health community to promote the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 once a vaccine becomes available. It will take time to change public sentiment, especially in hard-headed rural Minnesota.

But until the vaccine is here, people must wear masks – even those of us who have already had COVID-19. Only with a vigorous, conscientious effort will we get our communities back to the pre-coronavirus days

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