By Kerry Thomson, Executive Director of the Center for Rural Engagement at Indiana University
When we think of the painful toll of Covid-19, we often picture urban scenes: lines for tests, overflowing hospitals, refrigerated trucks serving as makeshift morgues. Yet, staggering new data shows that the death rate from Covid in rural areas is now double what it is in urban ones. You would think that fact, coupled with medical professionals pleading with people in rural America to get vaccinated, would lead more to get their shots. Yet, people in rural states lead the list of those who remain unvaccinated, putting themselves and others at risk.
Instead of blaming them for their vaccine hesitancy, we need to acknowledge that we all share responsibility for the crisis.
It’s enough to make increasingly angry vaccinated people shout: “Why won’t you listen to your doctor?” To which, I respond: “What if they don’t have one?”
Many in rural America aren’t vaccinated because two pernicious forces — the implosion of the rural health care system and the decay of local news — have left them with limited sources of information. That has allowed them to become prey to misinformation and overconfident quacks.
Instead of blaming them for their vaccine hesitancy, we need to acknowledge that we all share responsibility for the crisis. We all failed to invest in the doctors and nurses who could be trusted sources of accurate information for rural patients. We all failed to provide adequate funding for rural hospitals and local clinics. We all failed to help a rural health system adapt, instead of decay.