Hamilton, Al. – A handwritten journal kept by nurses tells of a losing battle to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in this part of Alabama: a total of 14 people showed up at the Marion County Department of Health for the initial vaccination in the first six weeks of the year .
This was true even as hospitals in and around the county of about 30,000 people were filled with viruses and the death toll was rising. For many days no one got the first shot, while the Mexican restaurant on Los Amigos Street was full of unmasked eateries for lunch.
The drive for vaccination in the U.S. is stopping, and demand has nearly plummeted in places like this deeply conservative manufacturing city, where many have been uninterested in vaccinations.
The average number of Americans receiving their first vaccination has dropped to about 90,000 a day, the lowest since the first few days of the U.S. vaccination campaign in December 2020. And hopes for significant improvement in the near future have largely disappeared.
About 76% of the US population has received at least one vaccination. Less than 65% of all Americans are fully vaccinated.
Vaccination incentive programs that handed out cash, sports tickets, beer and other prizes have largely disappeared. Mandates to vaccinate the government and employers have faced trial and may have gone as far as ever.
And as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are declining across the U.S., people who are against vaccination see no particular reason to change their minds.
“People just survived. They’re tired of it, ”said Judy Smith, a district health administrator for 12 counties in northwest Alabama.
The decline in demand for the first round of vaccination is especially evident in conservative areas of the country.
On most days in Idaho, the number of people across the state who receive their first shot rarely exceeds 500.
In Wyoming, about 280 people across the state received their first vaccination last week, and on Tuesday morning the waiting area at the Cheyenne-Laramie County Department of Health stood empty. The headmistress fondly recalled just a few months ago, when on Friday afternoon after school in the lobby bustling about where the children were receiving their doses. But they are also no more.
“People have heard more stories about the Omicron not being so bad,” said CEO Katie Emans. “I think a lot of people just threw the dice and decided, ‘Well, if things aren’t so bad, I’ll just wait and see what happens.'”
Marion County, along the Mississippi Line, is part of Alabama County, where most people are not vaccinated more than a year after vaccination. In the east, Winston County has the lowest in the state share of fully vaccinated residents – 26%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 42% are fully immunized in Marion County.
A digital sign near the First National Bank shows Bible verses along with the temperature, and many Marion County residents work on small businesses that produce mobile homes and components for prefabricated housing. Most vacancies in the field are working, and TVs usually turn to Fox News. Conservative, work ethic penetrates deeply.
In the 2020 election, President Donald Trump benefited greatly. Yet resistance to the vaccine is so strong that in two counties, in Kalman, some booed Trump when he encouraged vaccinations during a rally that raised thousands last summer.
COVID-19 has killed nearly 18,000 people in Alabama, making the state the fourth most deadly in the country. According to Johns Hopkins University, Marion County is 1.78% higher than the state average, with more than 140 deaths.
Health officials expected it would be difficult for them to persuade black people to get government-funded vaccines in Alabama, home of the infamous A study of Taskiga’s syphilis and a place where distrust of Washington is deep. They started working on education campaigns a few weeks earlier in mostly black areas, where they now have some of the highest vaccinations in the state – 60% or more.
But they did not expect fierce resistance among rural whites, which keeps vaccination numbers stubbornly low in places like Marion County, where 94% are white. While transportation difficulties in rural areas, confusion over the cost of vaccines – they are free – and lack of access to health care were also factors, a guerrilla rupture in America killed for some the vaccine even before it actually began, officials said.
“Rural white men who identify themselves as conservative are simply not interested in that. It took us by surprise, “said Dr. Scott Harris, head of Alabama’s Department of Public Health.” By the first or second month of the vaccination campaign, it became clear that these people were just not going to come. “
Richard Kitchens is part of this group. The owner of a clothing and sports shoe store in Hamilton Square, Kitchens said he was not interested in the vaccine after becoming infected with COVID-19 in 2020 before vaccines were available and his relatives who became infected only appeared minor symptoms and cured.
With the exception of a proven guarantee against the disease – which is not given by any vaccine – he sees no point.
“It seems to me that if I knew I could go out and get an injection, but not get it and not spread it, I would go and they say it helps,” Kitchens said. “But I think someday it will definitely be a road.”
Doris Peterson is fully vaccinated, but she said she was not vaccinated on the advice of her two adult daughters, neither of whom has been vaccinated. Peterson said she used to be one of the few people who still wears a mask in public.
“More often than not it’s me,” she said.
Kelly Moore, a former Tennessee health official who now heads a CDC-funded vaccination campaign called Immunize.org, recalled seeing a recent poll that hit her like a fist.
The results were presented at a meeting of CDC vaccine experts earlier this month. A January survey of about 1,000 adults asked unvaccinated participants what, if anything, might change their mind and persuade them to get vaccinated. Half said “nothing.”
“Honestly, it was pretty demoralizing to see those results,” Moore said.
Because the pandemic is still a deadly threat, health workers have not given up vaccinating more people, even if it seems difficult.
Jordan Ledbetter, a nurse working in the Marion County Department of Health, was thrilled when two people came for their first injections on the same day recently.
“It was exciting,” she said. “There are days when I don’t get any vaccines.”
Associated Press writer Mead Gruver contributed to this report from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
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