COLUMBUS, Ohio — The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
In Vinton County, Ohio’s smallest by population, about 29% of residents have received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19, compared to about 43% statewide.
Just 32% of the all-ages population in Ohio’s 15 least populous counties are vaccinated, on average, according to an analysis of data from the Ohio Department of Health. This trails both the statewide and national average (about 48%), adding another piece to a vexing puzzle of vaccine hesitancy.
On Tuesday, the CDC published research finding the trend holds nationwide: COVID-19 vaccination coverage was lower in rural counties (38.9%) than urban counties (45.7%), according to an analysis of data from adults aged 18-and-up between Dec. 14 and April 10.
For Ohio, the split was slightly broader: 37.2% in rural counties vs. 45.3% in urban counties, according to the CDC.
In Wood County, vaccine coverage on the low end or rural areas is about 21%, according to county health commissioner Ben Robison. Coverage on the higher end of suburban areas in the county reaches about 76%.
Robison said it’s unclear for now what’s driving the disparity. There are issues of access — rural areas lack the hospitals, doctors’ offices, and pharmacies that are more accessible in cities. But there are also demand problems, which could also interact with access issues.
The health department will soon launch a canvassing effort, knocking on doors to tell residents about upcoming vaccination clinics and answer questions about the shots. Other counties around Ohio are deploying similar, more resource intensive strategies to vaccinate more hesitant residents.
He said he’s hoping the boots-on-the ground approach, besides increasing vaccine uptake, can yield some clues as to what’s driving the urban-rural split.
“We see the problem, and a result of that, we’re beginning to take a diverse approach to try to address it, and that approach might be more explanatory in what’s driving the trend we’re seeing,” Robison said.
Real world data has shown the vaccines to be about 94% effective in staving off symptomatic COVID-19.
In some ways, the stakes are higher in rural America, where residents are often poorer, older, sicker (making them susceptible to more serious complications from COVID-19), less insured, and have less access to health care.
The CDC researchers found some evidence of an access problem — 14.6% of vaccinated, rural Americans traveled to a non-adjacent county for vaccines compared to 10.3% of Urban Americans.
Separate poll data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found about 21% of rural Americans will “definitely not” get the vaccine, and another 9% will only do so if they’re required to through work, school or other activities.
The polling showed that among rural Americans, vaccine hesitancy is strongest among Republicans, white Evangelicals, adults aged 18-49, and non-health care essential workers.