Every Thursday morning, Rehwaldt joins a local public radio broadcast to encourage people to get their shots, and the department regularly airs public service announcements. “But it’s a really high hurdle to overcome serious misgivings about the vaccine itself,” Rehwaldt said.
Asked what resources might help bolster vaccination rates, Rehwaldt said he’d opt for a mobile van to travel to remote areas of his county. But moments later, he sighed and said he wasn’t sure a van would help much after all. “What kind of resources are going to overcome hesitancy? It’s not a resource problem,” he said.
Shasta County, whose population is about 80% white and voted in even stronger numbers for Trump, is also struggling to reach the 65-plus group, with just 36.6% of seniors fully vaccinated. Public information officer Kerri Schuette acknowledged health workers were encountering some hesitancy among residents but said their efforts also were hampered by early supply issues.
On the other end of the spectrum are counties like Marin, a largely suburban and affluent stretch of communities just north of San Francisco where 71.4% of seniors are fully vaccinated.
“There’s a thread of privilege that does lead to ease of access to vaccines that needs to be acknowledged,” said county Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. Many seniors in the county have access to computers and cars, he said, and have been able to access vaccine appointments with relative ease.
Still, the county made an aggressive plan to vaccinate seniors even before the first doses arrived, he said. Rather than waiting for the federal government’s program that relied on pharmacies to vaccinate residents in long-term care facilities, for example, the health department sent in workers as soon as it had vaccines.
The county also kept its eligibility rules tightly focused on seniors ages 75 and older through the middle of February, while other counties were expanding to younger age groups and a broad array of occupations. At one point, the county briefly expanded eligibility to teachers, but pulled back just one week later when doses grew scarce.