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COVID Vaccination Rates Low For Rural North Florida Counties

 COVID-19 vaccination rates  in North Florida's rural areas trail the state's rate of 45%.
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.

In Baker and Holmes, about 22% of the population has received at least one shot. Washington, Calhoun, and Gilchrist are only slightly higher. The reasons aren't necessarily defined by geography.

COVID-19 vaccination rates for rural areas in North Florida are low. That's according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers, which shows about 45% of the state population has received at least one dose.

For Baker and Holmes counties, nearly 22% of the population has received at least one shot. The nearby counties of Washington, Calhoun and Gilchrist are only slightly higher.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has been surveying the public's opinion toward COVID-19 vaccines since last December. It said 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," says Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey.

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, a professor of public health at Florida A&M University, 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 led a team recruited by the Florida Department of Health to help with the state's early response to the pandemic.

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