CHEYENNE, Wyo. - According to the latest numbers from Bloomberg, the U.S. vaccination rate is over 3.3 million doses per day, and about 37% of the nation’s population - more than 123 million people - have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
But in Wyoming, that rate is woefully short of the norm. A recent CDC report indicating what is known as “vaccine hesitancy,” all 23 Wyoming counties are listed in the top one percent, with at least 29% of residents expressing their doubts about taking the vaccine.
Eleven counties in particular - Campbell, Carbon, Converse, Crook, Goshen, Johnson, Natrona, Niobrara, Platte, Washakie and Weston counties - report that over 32% of their residents are believed to be hesitant toward the inoculations against the novel coronavirus.
And that’s not surprising, according to Bill Crampton, the public health nursing supervisor in Park County. Although over 25% of the residents have been vaccinated in Park County, Crampton says that he’s talked to several people about why they are hesitant to take the vaccine.
“People aren't trusting of the government, and this has been building for 60 plus years - so it's not like it's a surprise,” he said. “But you know, I've heard everything from, ‘I'm not getting it because everybody's pushing it too hard,’ to ’I'm not getting it because it hasn't been out there long enough.’”
Crampton notes that many young people aren’t as interested in getting the vaccine - and additionally, the rapid rollout of the vaccine is a concern for Park County residents.
“Many of the questions that are being asked right now are questions that we would have answered with about 10 years worth of studies, and we're still gathering information as we go along,” Crampton said.
Crampton notes that the concern over the Johnson and Johnson vaccine hasn't helped those who are already hesitant.
“That's just added to the anxiety,” he explains, adding that the confusion at top levels of government also hampers the vaccination effort.
“Their messaging has been confusing - it's been contradictory,” he said.
But he adds it’s more than that - it’s human nature to look for conspiracies.
He said, “There's always somebody who comes up with some information later, and we find out we weren't told the whole truth - various government agencies that have apparently been caught in lies, and it makes folks just go, ‘Why should I trust what you tell me?’”
Kathy Emmons is the Executive Director for the Laramie County Health Department in Cheyenne. She says they’ve seen an average of about 400 people per day in the clinics their office has coordinated in the last couple of weeks.
In their county, 52% of the seniors which are 65 and older have taken the vaccine - but only 25% of the folks who are 18 and over have been inoculated.
One of the reasons that people are hesitant to get the vaccine, according to some of the residents that Emmons has talked to, is because in Wyoming the true impact of the virus hasn’t been felt.
“I was talking with one lady, and she was a little bit older, I would guess she was mid to late 60s. And I asked her how she was doing and, and she said, ‘You know, I was really hesitant to get the vaccine.’ She said, ‘I really didn't know if the COVID virus was really that bad,’" Emmons said.
“And I said, ‘Well, I just got off the phone with a 57 year old gentleman who told me he had gotten the vaccine, because he also had COVID, and it was so bad, he never wanted to go through that again.’"
“And right before I talked to her, I also saw that we lost a person in Laramie County, the death of a 47 year old. And I told her that,” she said.
Emmons says that while she understands that not everyone gets extremely ill from the virus, the possibility is there - and even though public health officials continue to try to educate the public about the severity of the virus, that message needs to continue to be put out there.
“I think there's still some misunderstanding, or lack of education, about the fact that this is a real thing. So we think we've told the story 100 times, but I guess we need to tell it 101,” she said.
“I think another piece of the the puzzle that we've not really identified is that there's still the misperception that if I have been sick with COVID, I don't need the vaccination,” Emmons said.
But she points out that the antibodies that are in your system from having the coronavirus are not going to stay there forever.
“So having that vaccine is just going to give you one more layer of protection, which again is really important for you for your family,” she said.
Emmons implores the public to think about more than their own health.
“We don't want to have to go back to limiting businesses and things like that - the economic impact,” she said. “And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure everybody can go back to work and can go out and shop; and you can only do that if you've got that protection.”
And Crampton says he has faith that the vaccine works.
“We wouldn't have it out there right now if it wasn't safe and effective,” she said.