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Rural counties in Nebraska have concerns over vaccination slowdown

Published: Jul. 6, 2021 at 10:44 PM CDT
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BLAIR, Neb. (WOWT) - Nebraska’s rural communities are falling dangerously behind when it comes to getting the COVID-19 vaccine, in fact, it’s one of the worst in the country.

At Memorial Community Hospital in Blair, vaccine hopes were high earlier this year when they started rolling out the shots.

“But since Memorial Day, the early part of June, we’ve seen a bit of a precipitous drop-off. It’s to the point now that on certain occasions we may only be vaccinating half a dozen to a dozen people a week,” said Jeff Gardner, Clinics Operation Director, Memorial Community Hospital & Health System.

According to NPR analysis of the CDC’s data, the gap between urban and rural vaccination rates in Nebraska is among the worst in the country at 14% points. Officials say one of the main reasons is a lack of trust in the vaccine despite science showing that it is safe.

“The most common thing I’ve heard is that there haven’t been any final approvals,” said Garnder. “Many of them were granted emergency use approval by the FDA and it’s a kind of a wait and see.”

Doug Shearer is a Washington County resident who’s banking on his immune system being stronger than the virus.

“I feel like I grew up when times were a little different. We played outside, played in the dirt, drank from the hose,” said Schearer.

When asked if there is anything that would make him change his mind and get the vaccine, he said, “no.”

Still, the staff of Memorial Community Hospital and Health System is determined to get as many people the shot as possible, asking each person who walks through their doors if they’ve received the shot.

“And if the reply is no,” said Garnder. “Then we offer it to them at the time of registration and again that’s followed up by nurses and clinicians even if they’re there for another type of visit.”

The nursing team, who saw first-hand the devastating impact of COVID-19, said it’s more important than ever, perhaps, to get the shot.

“It’s really important at this stage in the game that we continue our focus, continue to get more of the younger population vaccinated with heading into schools and more sports and just everything that comes with the fall season,” said Amy Zimmer, Chief Nurse Executive, Memorial Community Hospital.

They’re hoping the downward trend in COVID cases continues but preparing for the worst.

“Whether we continue down this particular road, or whether we have to ramp things up again,” said Garnder. “If we see another outbreak or large-scale spike, we’re prepared.”

Memorial Community Hospital received the honor of an invite from the White House to this year’s July 4th barbeque as a thank-you to healthcare workers. The hospital’s CEO made the trip to Washington to attend the festivities.

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