Now that everyone over the age of 16 in the country is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, we’re seeing large numbers of folks getting vaccinated. But there are still many folks out there who haven’t had their first dose. For some it’s a lack of access, be it transportation or internet access to sign up. Others have a fear of vaccines or want to wait until more information is available. New polling numbers show that those showing the largest amount of vaccine hesitancy are white, rural conservatives under the age of 60. If you know much about these groups of people, it’s not particularly surprising that they’re reluctant to get vaccinated. But that doesn’t make it any less infuriating.
According to polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation published in January of 2021, rural Americans were among one of the highest groups who were vaccine hesitant. Joining them were Republicans and people between the ages of 30 and 49. Obviously there’s a few outliers here, but the amount of overlap in that Venn diagram basically makes it a circle.
“There’s nothing inherently unique about living in a rural area that makes people balk at getting vaccinated. It’s just that rural areas have a larger share of people in the most vaccine-resistant groups: Republicans and white evangelical Christians,” president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman, told NPR.
And that tells us almost everything we need to know. Many of these white, rural folks spent all of last year listening to people in the government telling them COVID was a hoax. We know that if those people are anything, it’s brand-loyal and unwilling to accept reality. Trump and his entire administration completely downplayed the severity of the sickness during his tenure as our 45th president. Hell, many people within the administration got COVID, didn’t follow proper CDC guidelines, and still acted like it was no big deal. While people were literally dying, and there were refrigeration trucks to store the bodies in New York City. So if the people in power pretend it’s not a big thing, of course their loyal followers will. And you can’t expect those same people to then turn around and willingly get a vaccine for something they don’t believe is real — or at least, is a real threat.
If you couple the disbelief in COVID, with the anti-science beliefs that typically run parallel to it, and with the speed at which the vaccines became available, that’s where a lot of the vaccine hesitancy is coming from for rural whites. Many of them simply don’t believe that a shot which was available less than a year after the virus began to spread is going to be safe. Especially since there are ongoing trials to further test vaccine efficacy and the need for boosters.
“How did they come up with a vaccine that quickly? And how do they even know for sure that it’s working?” Linda Findley of Fort Scott, Kansas, asked NPR reporter Sarah Jane Tribble.
Public health officials in Tennessee claim that they’re surprised that white, largely conservative rural residents are the most resistant to getting the vaccine. And to that I must say, are you fucking kidding me? I cannot believe that this is a surprise to anyone, especially public health officials. Do they all live under a rock? How in the world can they be surprised, considering these people have made it beyond clear that they don’t take COVID seriously? These are the same people protesting in front of Applebee’s last summer because they wanted to eat their onion rings inside and not wear masks. And the public health officials thought that suddenly they’d get a grip on reality and change their minds? Give me a break!
And it’s not just people in Tennessee who aren’t getting the vaccine. It’s happening in other states like Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia — all states which are behind the rest of the country in terms of vaccination rates. It’s not such a shock considering those are full of some of the most vocal opponents to COVID in general. These white rural people are too entrenched in their beliefs that things aren’t that bad when it comes to COVID. That’s not to say they don’t believe it’s a real thing, but they may have the most ass-backwards, conspiratorial reasons for not getting the vaccine.
Back in March of this year, NPR visited Fort Scott, Kansas. Even though 1 in 11 people became ill with COVID, many of the residents were still skeptical of the virus’s existence. One man had COVID and still took his wife to Disney World when he recovered. Another woman knew people who died, and still didn’t plan on getting the vaccine. For many of those who are showing vaccine hesitancy, it overwhelmingly comes from a place where people don’t COVID is a serious concern. And if they don’t believe it’s a legitimate concern, and they consume anti-science media, of course they’re not going to get the vaccine.
Mike Holmes, CEO of Scenic Rivers Health Services in rural Minnesota, told Politico, “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.” He added that they’re a hard group to convince otherwise.
Remember when Trump had COVID? He made appearances where he looked like a thrice-microwaved burrito. But he was pretty much up and moving, which made his followers even more doubtful. Clearly everyone was making a big deal out of nothing, because their idiot-in-chief was just fine. Except he had the very best medical care available, and an unlimited makeup budget. If this is the imaging they were being fed, how could we ever expect them to take COVID precautions and public health seriously? Numbers don’t really matter once when their favorite inept president is dismissing them — especially for this group of people who are pretty open about not believing in science with an almost-maniacal fervor.
In some ways, those showing vaccine hesitancy are like petulant children who don’t want to be told what to do. They’re individualistic — if something isn’t affecting them directly, they don’t care. If that’s the case (which it seems to be), then trying to convince them to do something for the greater good is not going to be easy. Which is what we’re seeing now.
“Rural folks, we’re independent. We choose when we go to the doctor. We’re not always up on preventative care. We don’t visit specialists very often until we absolutely need to,” Katie Pinke writes in a column for the Duluth News Tribune. It’s important to note that Pinke and her husband did get the Moderna vaccine, but she’s speaking to the larger ideology that rural folks do things their own way.
White conservatives have been left out of vaccine hesitancy outreach in favor of the Black and Latinx communities. But given their overall response to COVID, it’s easy to understand why. It goes beyond distrust straight to non-belief, and that’s incredibly hard to overcome. Only time will tell if they will begin to come around to reality, but in the meanwhile, we’re losing valuable time in stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Yet again, we’re depending on people who don’t believe in COVID to save us. Really, it’s hard to understand why any of us are surprised at this point. These are the same people who have proved time and time again that they’re going to do whatever they want no matter what. And somehow, we expect them to change. Even though we know they won’t. If we couldn’t trust them to stay home and wear masks, why in the world would we expect them to suddenly turn around and get vaccinated? It’s foolish on our part.
What’s worse is that we need these ignorant fuckers to get our lives back. Because if they don’t get with the program, we can’t move forward. They’re the ones bitching and moaning about getting back to “normal,” and yet they never want to do the very simple things it will take to get us there. In the meanwhile, we’ll continue to suffer while we wait for them to get their heads out of their asses. And it’s not fair.
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