close up of covid bacteria

Efforts to get Nebraskans vaccinated continue as the state ranks 23rd in the nation for highest percentage of the population fully vaccinated. Forty-nine percent of Nebraska residents, or 953 thousand people, are fully vaccinated. 

Shannon Vanderheiden, the executive director of the West Central District Health Department in North Platte, said some reasons people are not getting the vaccine include lack of time, not wanting any kinds of vaccines and wanting more information on the vaccine.

“Everybody has their own rationale,” she said. “And, because of that, we have to be very diverse in how we work with certain populations.” 

For Vanderheiden, this includes providing fact-based information, walking people through the risks of coronavirus versus the risks of the vaccine and making vaccines as accessible as possible.

“We’ve gone to homes to vaccinate when people are homebound, we’ve had multiple clinics at businesses so that people do not have to leave work, we’ve had clinics on the weekend, we’ve had clinics past business hours,” she said. “Just doing everything we can to make it as easy as possible for people to make the decision to get vaccinated.”

Mackenzie Farr is the chief operating officer at Community Pharmacy, which has helped vaccinate almost 56,000 individuals in Nebraska and Iowa. She said political affiliation has played a part in vaccination rates across the nation.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 86% of Democrats have gotten at least one vaccine shot, compared to 45% of Republicans. While 47% of Republicans say they are unlikely to ever get the vaccine, 6% of Democrats say the same.

Farr said that while it may not be possible to change someone’s beliefs, it is important for trusted individuals and well-known medical professionals to repeatedly encourage residents to get vaccinated, especially in rural areas. 

“It’s finding those trusting advocates for the vaccination efforts and really driving that home and reinforcing it,” she said. “Maybe not just once, maybe not just twice, but it might take that third time for it really to sink in.”

The West Central District is at a vaccination rate of 30%, and Vanderheiden said there is ‘absolutely’ a lower portion of people vaccinated in rural areas compared to urbal ones. 

“Definitely not where we want to be, but I have to tell you we’re celebrating that a little bit because, for quite some time, we couldn’t even reach 30%,” she said.

Vanderheiden said vaccination rates in rural areas could be impacted by the way that smaller populations do not see the immediate impact of vaccines that is seen in areas with larger populations.

“[The West Central District’s] death rate is double that of the state,” she said. “However, because of our population, the impact is not as visible as when your populations are more dense.”

Since many people in rural areas did not personally experience the widespread outbreaks and restrictions that occurred in cities, they may feel less of a need to be vaccinated, said Mackenzie Farr, chief operating officer of Community Pharmacy in Gretna.

“It’s getting people to think outside of just their own personal circle,” Farr said. “If you have a situation where somebody can really tie that back to a personal interest, that’s really where [the drive to get vaccinated] is going to have to come from.”

Another thing that may prevent some people from getting the vaccine relates to availability of resources. Farr said some small towns do not have pharmacies, and the closest pharmacy available may not have the availability to store vaccines. So, people may have to travel longer distances or wait longer to be vaccinated. 

Vanderheiden said it is important to remind people that, although it is not 100% effective, the vaccine works against the virus and works against the variant strains. She believes the vaccine is the best way to help the world return to normal, help economies thrive and help keep people safe.

David Kohll of Kohll’s Pharmacy played a role in administering vaccines across parts of Nebraska and Iowa, and he wants everyone to recognize that the benefits of getting the vaccine clearly outweigh any risk.

“An easy, very, very simple way to protect yourself and others is to just do that simple vaccination,” he said.

With the recent increases in Delta Covid-19 variant cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks when in indoor areas of substantial or high transmission.