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'It didn't really stick with me': Understanding the rural shrug over COVID and vaccines

Sarah Jane Tribble, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

That casual attitude toward the dangers of COVID-19 worries health care leaders in Fort Scott. Jason Wesco helps lead the regional health center that took over primary care services when the hospital closed. One clinic occupies part of the same building that used to be Mercy Hospital.

Wesco said his family is careful about wearing masks and not gathering in groups, and he believes they are in the minority in the area.

“I think most people just keep going. They have maybe modified a little bit. Maybe they put on a mask in public,” Wesco said. “I think life here has changed a lot less than it’s changed in D.C. And I think we’re seeing the impact of that, right?”

The pandemic hit the area hard in the fall, peaking in late December.

One in 11 people in Bourbon County, where Fort Scott is the largest community, has been infected by COVID-19, according to national analysis.

Two dozen of the county’s 14,000 residents have died of COVID-19. And most people know someone who had the virus and survived — but residents just seem tired of talking about it.

 

Community volunteer Findley said she won’t get a vaccine.

“How did they come up with a vaccine that quickly? And how do they even know for sure it’s even working?” Findley wondered.

The three vaccines approved by federal regulators in the U.S. are being given out to millions, and their efficacy has been shown through massive clinical trials in the U.S. and globally.

But Findley’s skepticism is fairly common in southeastern Kansas and across rural America. Nationwide, a smaller share of rural residents say they will definitely get a COVID-19 shot compared with their more urban counterparts. More than a third, 35%, of those who live outside big-city borders said they would probably not or definitely not get vaccinated, compared with about a quarter of suburban and urban residents, according to a poll by KFF. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.) An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found that 47% of Trump supporters said they would not get a vaccine; 75% of Bourbon County residents voted for Trump in 2020.

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