Demand for COVID-19 vaccines continues to lag in Iowa, especially in rural areas, and vaccination rates in southern and northwestern Iowa trail those in more urban areas.
In some counties, fewer than one in three residents are fully vaccinated. Shelley Bickel, the administrator of the Wayne County Public Health Department, says some residents turn down the vaccine even after family members have died of COVID.
“I asked them if they’re going to get vaccinated, and they said no,” Bickel says. “So I don’t know where people’s thinking is, I really don’t.” Bickel says her county has largely finished vaccinating the residents who are willing. She says lack of trust, misinformation and conservative politics have dissuaded many others from getting the shot.
Right over the Missouri state line, Bickel says the area leans very conservative, and politics have kept many from getting vaccinated. “So right now, our goal is if we can do one person a day, then we’ve made headway,” she says. “I guess I go with that philosophy and if I think about it too hard, it’s depressing, so I can’t think about it.” Bickel says things are more-or-less back to normal in Wayne County, despite only 31 percent of residents being fully vaccinated.
In the Quad Cities, about 43% of the population is fully vaccinated. Dr. Louis Katz, medical director of the Scott County Health Department in Davenport, says case numbers and hospitalizations have dropped significantly and he’s encouraged there was no spike after the most recent holiday, Memorial Day.
“That’s really good evidence that we’ve reached a level of immunity in the population, primarily from immunization but also those people who were even infected, where we did what we did on Memorial Day, all outdoors, of course, or mostly outdoors, and we didn’t get a surge.”
Katz cautions those who haven’t been vaccinated to wear a mask, social distance, and keep following all the CDC guidelines. He warns people who are willing to take the risk that treatment for COVID still isn’t very good and they should get the vaccine to be safe.
“Between 350 and 400 people are dying a day in the U.S. from COVID. That’s a loaded 747 going down every day, you know?” Katz says. “So, tell me that this is a trivial issue and that the risk isn’t very high.” Katz encourages the unvaccinated to be kind and think of others, especially since COVID-19 is five to ten-times more deadly than the flu.
Experts worry low vaccination rates could lead to new outbreaks or allow the virus to mutate, possibly becoming more infectious or more deadly.
(By Kate Payne, Iowa Public Radio and Michelle O’Neill, WVIK, Rock Island)