The Rural Pandemic Isn’t Ending
Despite the public cry for vaccination, many rural Americans won't get vaccinated
Americans will soon begin to fall back into the rhythms of pre-pandemic life—attending sunny summer weddings, squishing into booths at chain restaurants, laughing together at movies on the big screen—and it will feel like a victory over the coronavirus. But the virus might not actually be gone.
In pockets of the country, vaccination rates could stay low, creating little islands where the coronavirus survives and thrives—sickening and killing people for months after the pandemic has ebbed elsewhere. In a worst-case scenario, the virus could mutate, becoming a highly transmissible and much more lethal version of itself. Eventually, the new variant could leak from these islands and spread into the broader population, posing a threat to already-vaccinated people.
This is the future that keeps some public-health experts awake at night. Right now, America is in the simplest stage of its vaccination campaign: getting shots to people who want them. But many Americans are still reluctant to get a vaccine—especially those living in rural areas, who tend to be less educated, politically conservative and among those most fervently opposed to inoculation. Public-health leaders will soon have to refocus their efforts toward the next and more difficult stage of the campaign: persuasion. Over the next few months, “the number of willing individuals to get vaccinated will be depleted,” said Timothy Callaghan, a rural-health researcher and professor at Texas A&M University. “Then the work begins.”
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