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US vaccination campaign hits rock bottom as omicron declines

HAMILTON, Alabama — A handwritten diary kept by nurses tells the story of the losing battle to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in this corner of Alabama: Only 14 people showed up at the city’s health department. Marion County for their first vaccine during the first six weeks of the year.

That was true even as hospitals in and around the county of about 30,000 people were filled with patients infected with the virus and the death toll rose. Many days no one got the first shot, while a Mexican restaurant down the street, Los Amigos, was full of unmasked lunchtime diners.

The U.S. vaccination campaign is winding down and demand has all but collapsed in places like this deeply conservative manufacturing town where many were initially uninterested in vaccines.

The average number of Americans receiving their first vaccine has fallen to around 90,000 a day, the lowest point since the first days of the US vaccination campaign, in December 2020. And hopes for a substantial improvement in the future immediately have largely evaporated.

About 76% of the American population has received at least one injection. Less than 65% of all Americans are fully immunized.

Vaccination incentive programs that offered cash, sports tickets, beer and other prizes have largely disappeared. Vaccine mandates from governments and employers have been the subject of legal challenges and may have gone as far as they ever will.

And with COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths declining in the United States, those who oppose vaccination don’t see much reason to change their minds.

The dip in demand for the first round of vaccinations is particularly evident in conservative parts of the country.

On most days in Idaho, the number of people statewide who receive their first vaccine rarely exceeds 500.

In Wyoming, a total of about 280 people statewide received their first vaccine in the past week, and the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department waiting room was empty Tuesday morning. The head of the department fondly recalls just a few months ago when the hall was bustling on Friday afternoons after school, with children getting their doses. But they don’t show up either.

“People have heard more stories about, well, omicron isn’t that bad,” executive director Kathy Emmons said. “I think a lot of people just rolled the dice and decided, ‘Well, if it’s not that bad, I’ll just wait and see what happens. “”

Marion County, along the Mississippi line, is among a cluster of Alabama counties where most people are not fully vaccinated more than a year after the vaccines were rolled out. Just to the east, Winston County has the lowest share of fully immunized residents in the state, at 26%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 42% are fully immunized in Marion County.

The digital sign outside First National Bank displays Bible verses as well as the temperature, and many Marion County residents work in small factories that make mobile homes and components for manufactured housing. Most of the jobs in the area are blue-collar, and TVs are usually turned to Fox News. A conservative and working-class ethic runs deep.

The area was a big hit with President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. And yet, vaccine resistance is so strong that two counties down in Cullman some booed Trump when he urged vaccinations at a rally which attracted thousands of people last summer.

COVID-19 has killed nearly 18,000 people in Alabama, giving the state the fourth-highest death rate in the nation relative to population. Marion County’s rate tops the state average at 1.78%, with more than 140 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“Rural white men who identify as conservative are just not interested in this. It caught us off guard,” said Dr. Scott Harris, chief of the Alabama Department of Public Health. “During the first or second month of the vaccination campaign, it became clear that these people were just not going to come in.

Richard Kitchens is part of this group. The owner of a clothing and athletic shoe store in Hamilton Square, Kitchens said he was not interested in the vaccine after contracting COVID-19 in 2020 before vaccines were available and having relatives who contracted the disease, developed only minor symptoms and recovered.

Unless there is a proven guarantee against disease – which no vaccine provides – he sees no point in it.

“I guess if I knew I could go out and get a shot and not get it or spread it, I would go get it, and they say that helps,” Kitchens said. “But I think that will be determined a day later the road maybe.

Doris Peterson is fully vaccinated, but she says she didn’t get a booster on the advice of her two adult daughters, neither of whom are vaccinated. Peterson said she used to be one of the few people who still wore a mask in public.

“Most of the time I am,” she said.

Kelly Moore, a former Tennessee health official who now heads a CDC-funded immunization advocacy organization named, recalled seeing data from a recent survey that struck her as a punch in the gut.

The findings were presented at a meeting of CDC vaccine experts earlier this month. The January survey of around 1,000 adults asked unvaccinated participants what, if anything, would change their minds and persuade them to get vaccinated. Half said “nothing”.

“It was pretty demoralizing to see those results, frankly,” Moore said.

With the pandemic still a deadly threat, public health workers have not given up on getting more people vaccinated, even though it sounds like a difficult task.

Jordan Ledbetter, a nurse who works at the Marion County Health Department, was thrilled when two people first came in on the same day recently.

“It was exciting,” she said. “There were days when I didn’t do vaccines.”


Associated Press writer Mead Gruver contributed to this report from Cheyenne, Wyoming.

ABC News

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.


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