OPINION | POLITICO – The Biden administration can finally ship large quantities of coronavirus shots into the American heartland, where health officials are encountering a reservoir of vaccine skepticism among rural Americans who’ve adopted former President Donald Trump’s denial of a virus battering their communities.
If a critical mass of people don’t accept Covid-19 vaccines, the country won’t achieve “herd immunity.”
When there was just a trickle of vaccines, hesitancy didn’t matter as much because plenty of people were clamoring for the scarce shots.
Now that the supply is ramping up, the challenge is to overcome fear, distrust and outright antagonism to the new vaccines shared by some groups in large numbers.
That’s the path to save lives, slow the emergence of new virus variants, end the stress on the health care system and restore the economy.
Mike Holmes, who for over 40 years has been CEO of Scenic Rivers Health Services in one of the most rural regions of Minnesota, said:
“We’ve got fairly good trust — but there’s a block of the community, or the population, who thinks that this is a hoax, that it’s to exert control to limit people’s freedom.”
“That’s a hard group to convince.”
Because the pandemic hit Black and brown communities so hard — at the same time as a broad and disruptive American awakening over race — much of the focus has been on getting the shots to minority communities and addressing their long distrust of a health care system that at times has ignored and abused them.
But polls have found that some of the deepest opposition to vaccines is among rural whites and Republicans, including some who say the risk of Covid-19 has been exaggerated.
One coalition of health groups and nonprofits has even engaged a prominent GOP pollster and wordsmith to help them break through with pro-vaccine messages.
But the damage from months of mixed messaging about the virus’s severity, whether from Trump world or social media, has been done, say public health experts and health care workers administering shots in rural America …
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