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In Rural Areas, Residents May Be Reluctant To Take A COVID-19 Vaccine

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Whenever a COVID-19 vaccine is approved, tens of millions of doses will have to be delivered around the country. But surveys show that, in addition to any distribution challenges, millions of Americans just don't trust a vaccine and say they may not take it. Dr. Lindsey Paulson is a family medicine physician in Wray, Colo., with a population of just over 2,300, and she joins us now. Dr. Paulson, thanks so much for being with us.

LINDSEY PAULSON: Thanks for inviting me.

SIMON: Let me ask you first, how do you stand with COVID-19 in Wray?

PAULSON: We're starting to see a slow trickle of COVID-19 cases. We're up to just around 250 cases total in the county since the beginning of the pandemic.

SIMON: If and when there's a vaccine, do you have any concerns about it reaching Wray, Colo., or being kept cold or anything like that?

PAULSON: I think that the distribution is most likely going to be effective. I don't envision the actual delivery of vaccine being the rate-limiting step in vaccinating your population here.

SIMON: What is the limiting step? Do you know people in your community who say, I just don't want a vaccine?

PAULSON: I think that before we're going to be able to convince our community to take a vaccine, we're going to have to convince the community that COVID is a true public health concern. In a population where most people think that COVID is nothing more than a cold or a mild flu, we may have difficulty convincing folks that they need a vaccine for this illness.

SIMON: So let me try to understand that. The skepticism comes from the fact that although people in the community have come down with COVID, most of the cases haven't been very serious. Please explain what you can to us.

PAULSON: I think there's a variety of different causes for skepticism. I think that we have a population that is known for being fiercely independent. A lot of the farmers and ranchers here in northeastern Colorado and really all of rural America are skeptical. And I also think there's some skepticism related to many of the conspiracy theories that we've seen circulating. Some folks mentioned concern over Bill Gates trying to microchip us with the vaccine. And so I think that we're going to have to tackle a number of the conspiracy theories, and we're going to have to convince people that they really will benefit not only individually, but also the population from receiving a vaccine.

SIMON: Dr. Paulson, what can you do about that? I mean, you can have a conversation with someone who comes into your office, but I imagine most of the people living in a town of 2,300 aren't going to necessarily have an appointment over the next few weeks or months, right?

PAULSON: Well, it's a good question. I mean, we're a close-knit community. So I think it's really going to be - going to boil down a little bit possibly to peer pressure. But - the strategy that we've kind of employed from the beginning of the pandemic. But as it relates to any public health measure, including flu vaccine seasonally, is the idea that if the medical community in our town accepts the vaccines as safe and effective, we're willing to vaccinate our families, then I think there may be some community buy-in. But I think it's going to be just a widespread educational campaign. I think we're going to have to plan to utilize social media but also our local newspaper and then just word of mouth. I think that we've done a good job so far of utilizing our medical staff to spread the word.

SIMON: I have been told that Wray is a close-knit community. You've even said that. Does that help at a time like this? When we talk about so much of the country being divided, is that sensation unknown in Wray? Or do you have your divisions there, too?

PAULSON: Well, I think that that's an interesting question because, in general, we all are pretty united. We all take care of each other. I do think there's been quite a bit of division as it relates to the pandemic. And then also, you know, the election, of course, is going to cause some division. So there's a number of factors that I think have contributed to a little bit more division in our community than is typical. But really, at the end of the day, people are still helpful to each other. We still care about each other. I think we're able to gather less frequently. The churches are meeting less. There's fewer sporting events. And so people just aren't able to see their neighbors and look them in the eye. And that makes it easy to forget how much we care about each other. And I think that goes for all of us nationwide. It's easy to forget everyone's humanity, really.

SIMON: Dr. Lindsey Paulson is a family medical physician in Colorado. Thanks so much for being with us, doctor.

PAULSON: Thanks again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.