Vaccine Hesitancy Continues to Cause Concern in Rural Georgia as Supply Outweighs Demand

Natalie Frank, Ph.D.

Vaccinations rates remain low in rural Georgia with large clinics soon closing as supply significantly outweighs demand.
Georgia mass vaccination sites scheduled to be shut down as supply exceeds demandGeorgia Health News

COVID vaccine hesitancy continues to be a widely discussed topic in America. Recently, as many as 25 states have turned down some of the doses they were allocated because of falling demand. Georgia is among these states.

In Georgia, a survey indicated that around 51 percent of the registered voters who participated said they have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Among those who have not been vaccinated, results indicated that about a third of them are currently waiting to see what happens in the future and that half have no intention of getting the vaccine at all. About two-thirds of Republicans respondents who aren’t vaccinated don’t plan to get a shot.

Vaccine hesitancy in the state tends to be greater among men, young adults, who have not attended college and who earn less than $25,000 a year. The most likely Georgians to have received the vaccine are college graduates, liberals and those who are 65 and older.

These findings are indicative of the ongoing struggle state leaders and public health experts are experiencing as they race to bring the pandemic under control and prevent more virulent strains of the contagious disease from spreading. Health officials are fighting both misinformation and skepticism.

“This reluctance to get vaccinated among certain U.S. populations could threaten to derail the progress and really prolong this pandemic,” Evan Benjamin, a health policy and management professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said. He added that about 20 percent of Americans are hesitant about getting the vaccine and another 15 percent say they definitely won’t get it.

Vaccinations rates are particularly low in rural Georgia.

At David and Katie's Amish Store in Homer in rural Banks County Georgia, while masks are recommended, they aren’t not required. When asked about his opinion regarding low rates of vaccinations in the county, one shopper responded that everyone is responsible for their own decision. "Your choice is your choice. And my choice is that I'm not gonna get it and I don't want it," said shopper Jason Fletcher.

It has been clear for some time that Republican states and counties have much lower rates of vaccinations than Democratic states.

“We can draw a conclusion that red states and voters that voted for Trump are going to be more difficult to vaccinate because we have real good survey data to support that," said Dr. Howard Forman, a professor of public health and management at the Yale School of Medicine.

This has been explained in part as the result of Trump’s statements regarding the seriousness of the virus and his cavalier attitude towards taking precautions to prevent its spread, despite the fact that both he and his wife were vaccinated in March.

Rural Banks County is almost exclusively republican with 90 percent of voters voting for former President Trump and is no exception to the pattern. The vaccination rate for the county stands at 4%, which is among Georgia's lowest.

"We have the vaccine available. We have the facilities," said Dr. Zachary Taylor, director of Georgia's District 2 sector for public health. "We're just not getting as many people coming."

This facility could vaccinate 2,000 people a day. It averages less than 1000.

Due to the significant decrease in demand for the vaccine in Georgia the state will close its mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics later this month.

“With over 300,000 doses administered at the state sites over the last few months, our highly successful state-operated sites have experienced a notable decrease in demand over the last two weeks,” said GEMA/HS Director Chris Stallings. “As supply and availability of the COVID-19 vaccines has dramatically increased across the state, far more Georgians are now able to easily access the vaccine at their local pharmacy, grocery store, or doctor’s office.”

Yet, this won’t address the fact that many in rural areas of the state are reluctant to get the vaccine which could lead to outbreaks and the development of new mutations and variants.

The best way to handle this, according to Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, is to use trusted messengers to help encourage people to get vaccinated. These are local individuals that are familiar to the population.

“It's working with local nurses and doctors, with teachers, with faith leaders and others in local communities to make sure they have information that they can use to share with those around them in their neighborhoods and their communities,” Murthy said. “We know from, again, from good research that that's actually who people want to hear from, their own health care provider, their family and their friends. And that's one of the reasons why a few weeks ago we launched the COVID-19 Community Corps, to bring many of these trusted messengers together, empower them with tools and help them share that information with people so that they could make a decision for themselves about getting vaccinated.”

You can sign up to joining the COVID-19 Community Corp, and receive resources and weekly emails to help you build vaccine confidence in your community.

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