Rural counties emerge as leaders in vaccine roll out

Published: Feb. 25, 2021 at 6:13 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2021 at 9:38 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Some rural counties within the NBC15 viewing area seem to be outperforming state averages, even Dane County, in terms of the percentage of residents with at least one dose.

For example, Richland County’s population is roughly 17,000. So far, 21 percent of those eligible to get the vaccine have received at least one dose. Iowa County, with more than 23,000 residents, comes in at 20.4 percent, according to the latest Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services data.

However, this data contradicts some national research showing rural Americans tend to be more reluctant to get the vaccine.

A survey done by Kaiser Family Foundation found residents in rural America are far more likely to say they will “definitely not” get the vaccination than those in urban areas, by a difference of 21 percent to 8 percent.

Iowa Co. Emergency Management Dir. Keith Hurlbert credits their focus on outreach and education starting at the beginning of the pandemic as a possible reason for their success in getting shots in arms.

“I don’t have the magic answer to that question of what exactly are we doing if its anything that is different, but I do know we have had a constant presence,” he said.

Hurlbert said they have reached out through radio and television interviews, as well as social media to get messaging across.

“There are people of course in every county that don’t want the vaccine, and we recognize and certainly don’t force it upon them. We do spend some time educating people though to make sure they are making an informed decision,” he said.

The vaccination rate in Jefferson Co. is lower in comparison, with 13.5 percent of the more than 84,000 eligible residents getting at least one dose of the vaccine.

Samroz Jakvani, the county’s epidemiologist and COVID-19 public information officer, said those in the 65 and older group have been more willing to get the shot. As more people have received the vaccine, more people on the fence have changed their minds.

“We’ve definitely seen some vaccine hesitancy, but that hesitancy varies depending on the group we are talking about,” he said.

Jakvani noted numbers and rates could change, as more groups become eligible.

“We will have a much better understanding of hesitancy across a much larger group,” he said.

Richland County Emergency Management Dir. Darin Gudgeon credited their success with vaccines efforts to collaboration with partner agencies starting well before Christmas.

“The Richland Hospital, Center Pharmacy, Richland County Health & Human Services, and Richland County Emergency Management came together to develop a local plan to effectively and efficiently distribute COVID-19 vaccinations as they became available. Our collaborative group functions as one vaccine entity even though we operate multiple vaccination sites in Richland County,” Gudgeon wrote in a statement to NBC15.

NBC15 reached out the DHS. A representative said some counties may include larger populations of people 65 and older, so there might be more of a demand for the vaccine in those areas.

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