Vaccine WSF Drive-Thru

Converse County Health Department Nurse Mary Bliss administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Richard McElderry during the department’s vaccination drive-thru at the state fairgrounds in Douglas Feb. 12.

Roughly four months into Converse County’s administration of the coronavirus vaccine, and one month after the vaccine become available to all adults, only about 24 percent of adult county residents are fully vaccinated, according to the latest figures from the Wyoming Department of Health.

That county rate lags behind the state average and is far below the national average, but it is also helping make Wyoming one of the outlying states not only for low vaccination rates but at the same time seeing an uptick in COVID-19 cases, according to recent national reports.

Currently, about 32 percent of adult Wyomingites across the state are fully vaccinated.

Wyoming’s overall rate falls slightly behind the vaccination rate for the United States as a whole, which at press time was about 37 percent for adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the vaccines became available in January in Converse County, health experts have continually said that widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the ongoing pandemic.

Converse County’s vaccination rate is comparable to a handful of other counties across the state which also fall in the high teens or low 20s for adults. Meanwhile, the rates for a handful of other counties like Albany, Carbon, Fremont, Park and Sheridan are closer to the mid-30s or higher.

Currently, Teton County has the highest vaccination rate at roughly 64 percent.

The picture is different looking just at adults 65 and older. About 45 percent of seniors in Converse County are vaccinated – roughly double the rate for all adults 18 and older.

That more seniors are vaccinated than the general adult population is not surprising; they were the first group to become eligible for the vaccine and it has only been one month since adults ages 18 and older began receiving the vaccine here.

Still, the fact that roughly 76 percent of all adults in Converse County are not vaccinated raises questions about why and could potentially signal challenges in getting the rest of the population here vaccinated.

“Interest has been waning,” said Andrea Hiser, office manager at the Converse County Public Health Department.

It’s been difficult to convince younger people of the importance of getting vaccinated, she said, partly because they spend so much time on social media where the information might be less trustworthy.

But there may also be cultural reasons driving people’s hesitancy to get vaccinated regardless of their age, said Mariah Ehmke, a professor of food policy, environmental economics and behavioral health economics at the University of Wyoming.

In a tight-knit rural community, there’s a sense that if one becomes sick, the person’s network of friends and family would help them get through it, so there’s less urgency to seek preemptive vaccination, she said.

Another possible explanation, Ehmke reasoned, is that residents here are not fully vested in the health of the larger community, or they think that getting vaccinated makes little difference.

And, residents may be placing too much faith in social media where the information can be muddled and inaccurate, instead of information from trustworthy sources like the CDC, hospitals, health experts and state health departments, she said.

“There’s a sense that the deaths have been ‘sensationalized,’ or that the government statistics are skewed,” said Ehmke, who has studied attitudes toward childhood vaccines and immunization in general since 2016.

There may also be a perception in Converse County, and Wyoming in general, that the coronavirus is primarily an East Coast/West Coast problem, Ehmke said, and not as important here, despite the spike in cases that hit here in late 2020.

Since the pandemic took hold last year, there have been 17 coronavirus-related deaths total in Converse County, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.

Some ways to improve vaccination rates, Ehmke said, would be to provide clinics that are as easy to access as possible, or even on-site vaccinations where people work.

And, if those who are vaccinated let more of their friends and family know, that too might help to encourage others, she said.

In Converse County, MHCC is holding its vaccination clinics every Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. They provide both the two-shot Moderna and one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The Public Health Department is in the midst of holding their last second-dose clinics for the Moderna vaccine; after that they will transition to office hours for vaccinations in both Douglas and Glenrock.

The department’s last drive-thru clinic for the second-dose Moderna vaccine is being held May 5 in Rolling Hills at the town maintenance shop.

The vaccine is also being administered at Frontier Drug and Safeway in Douglas.

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