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Vaccination Rates Low For Rural North Florida Counties

Pictured here is a wooden bridge that goes across a marsh.
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COVID-19 vaccination rates are low for rural counties in North Florida. For Baker and Holmes counties, nearly 22% of the total population have received at least one shot. The nearby counties of Washington, Calhoun, and Gilchrist are only slightly higher.

COVID-19 vaccination rates for rural areas in north Florida are low. That's according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers for the total population compared with how many people have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine.

For Baker and Holmes counties, nearly 22% of the total population have received at least one shot. The nearby counties of Washington, Calhoun, and Gilchrist are only slightly higher. That's a far cry from the 70% - 80% recommended by infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNBC's Healthy Returns Livestream.

"If we get that, we would develop an umbrella of immunity that would be able to protect even the vulnerable who have not been vaccinated or those in which the vaccine has not been effective," Fauci says.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been surveying the public's opinion toward COVID-19 vaccines since last December. 42% of rural Americans surveyed say they will wait and see whether to get the vaccine, will only get vaccinated if required, or will definitely not get the vaccine.

The foundation's Liz Hamel says that percentage has less to do with geography and more to do with political opinion.

"One of the big divides we've seen in people's views on the vaccines has been bipartisanship. And we found that Republicans have been more likely to say they don't want to take the vaccine, and so when we control for partisanship in a model, we find that actually there's no difference between rural and urban residents it's just that there's a larger share of people living in rural areas who are Republicans, and those people are more hesitant to take the vaccine," Hamel says.

Hamel says about 1 in 5 Republicans surveyed say they don't plan to get the vaccine at all.

"For that group, it really is a sense of not feeling like they're at risk from the disease as much. In addition to concerns about side effects and the newness of the vaccine, which we see across populations," Hamel says.

And it's not just rural areas that have low vaccination rates. In the panhandle, the rate in Bay County is 29%.

"I'm very surprised. I'm surprised—I don't know why it would be that low," Al Cathey says. He's the Mayor of Mexico Beach in Bay County.

Cathey says very few people he's talked to have said they're hesitant to take the vaccine.

"The overwhelming majority of the people that I have spoken to—the conversation has come up—all have been vaccinated, all were glad they were able to get it," Cathey says.

Epidemiologist Dr. Perry Brown says it's important not to have pockets of unvaccinated people.

"Suppose in Florida we had 70% of the population vaccinated, but in one particular town, we had 10% vaccinated, so 90% of the people were not. We could have a raging outbreak in that little town because hardly anybody is protected," Brown says.

Brown says unvaccinated groups don't have to be defined by geography.

"Those pockets could be racial or ethnic pockets. They could be geographic pockets like a town or a county, or a city. They could be pockets defined by, let's say, an occupational site where you have 200 people, and nobody is immunized," Brown says.

Brown urges people to get vaccinated. He is a professor of public health at Florida A&M University. Brown led a team recruited by the Florida Department of Health to help with the state's early response to the pandemic.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.