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Bridging The Great Health Divide | Vaccine divide in Appalachia

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 6:12 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Health leaders say we could soon see more supply of the vaccine, then demand for it. That’s as some health departments are trying to work through vaccine hesitancy. And that delay could slow down herd immunity.

It’s an issue healthcare leaders told us they saw coming weeks ago.

“I think everybody knew this was going to happen. We were going to be faced with a supply problem on the front end, and at some point those lines are going to cross. And we were going to end up with a hesitancy problem and I think we have essentially reached that point,” said Ben Chandler with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

While the state initially saw vaccine appointments fill up in minutes, health departments now have openings across the commonwealth. That includes the clinics ran by the Lake Cumberland District Health Department.

“We didn’t expect to be at this point quite this soon. We expected it around summer time, maybe August. So we got to it, we’re here in April, the first day of April,” Stuart Spillman with LCDHD said.

Their department oversees several counties near the bottom of the CDC’s list when it comes to a percentage of population that has been vaccinated, including Wayne, Casey and McCreary counties.

Of the 10 counties on the bottom of that list, only two, Elliott and Lewis, don’t have vaccine locations listed on the state’s website.

“You can get a vaccination if you want to relatively easy. The problem now seems to be as we move through the people who have wanted the vaccine, they’ve gotten it. Now we are to a group that there’s hesitancy,” Spillman said.

“Another thing that’s interesting is the hesitancy is quite large amongst Republicans. And out in rural Kentucky we have a lot of Republicans so I think that may be a part of it too,” Chandler said.

A CBS news poll from April showed 33% of Republicans said they would not get the vaccine, compared to 10% of Democrats.

Spillman said another reason some of the numbers in rural counties could appear lower is because those people are going to neighboring counties to get vaccinated. The CDC has said they are trying to match those doses to the county of residence, but say missing data could make those numbers appear lower than they actually are.

The good news is the percentage of people 65 and older who have been vaccinated is more than double the rest of the population, even in counties that are near the bottom of the list.

“If you want to get back to normal you have to be part of the solution. So I hear people say they are tired of wearing masks, they’re tired of not being able to do this or go into a restaurant and sit the way they want to sit. But if you refuse to take the vaccine you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. You’re the reason why this is going to keep going the way it is,” Spillman said.

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