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Rural areas struggle with COVID-19 vaccination rates

Published: Dec. 16, 2021 at 6:30 PM EST
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MINGO COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Many rural areas of West Virginia continue to struggle to vaccinate people against COVID-19 one year after the shots first became available.

Mingo County has the lowest vaccination rate in the state, according to the West Virginia DHHR COVID-19 Dashboard, with only 28% of the county’s population fully vaccinated.

Health Department Director Keith Blankenship said that number is likely slightly higher than it appears because many people in the Williamson area got vaccinated across the border in Kentucky. However, many people have decided they will never get a COVID-19 shot for religious reasons or because they are unable to miss work for possible side effects. He said there is also a number of residents that do not trust the vaccine after seeing conspiracy theories on the internet.

“The goal for herd immunity is to get close to 70 percent, and we realize we’re way below that,” Blankenship said. “But, at the same time, it’s a personal choice whether you get vaccinated or not get vaccinated. We honor those people’s choices, but we make it available. We’re at every location we can get to, and I don’t think there’s a person in Mingo County who wants the vaccine not been able to get the vaccine.”

The Mingo County Health Department is holding mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics at least four days per week now, Blankenship said. The goal is to reach as many people as possible, but they also spend a lot of time educating people about the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

With an average of only four people becoming fully vaccinated each day during the past week, Blankenship said the Department has to throw vials of the life-saving vaccine in the trash almost every day because they have to be opened but do not get fully used.

Gov. Jim Justice said the state is trying to change that trend with a number of advertising campaigns, but he is not willing to create any vaccine mandates that would increase the vaccination rate.

“I am going out all the time,” Justice said about helping rural areas of the state. “All different days of the week I am out with Babydog doing this or doing that. Now, we are going to do a thing that we just announced with our senior centers. All you can do is just think of it this way, if in Mingo County we only got five people, that’s five people. That’s all there is to it. You’ve got to absolutely know that without any question we’ll try anything to get more and more and more people.”

There are still a number of people in Mingo County who do not believe Gov. Justice’s message, including Josh Bandy. He said there is not enough information available about the vaccine yet and it is unclear what it will do to you years down the line.

“I wonder why the government is pushing it so hard,” Bandy said. “I don’t think they should be able to mandate people to take it. I mean, why are they pushing it so hard? To give it to us? I don’t understand it.”

“I think my immune system will take care of it,” Josh Bandy said. “And like for the older people, I think they should get it because their immune system might not be as good as mine. I’m just against it, period.”

It’s people like Bandy that Blankenship is concerned about getting the virus if there is another spike in cases this winter. He said the county has already seen an increase in cases after the Thanksgiving holiday, but he is also grateful there has been a slight increase in vaccinations during the past couple of weeks with people concerned about getting sick while gathering with their families.

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