A Tale of Two Counties: Texas Communities Illustrate Deep Divide in COVID-19 Vaccination Efforts


Americans remain deeply polarized over the new pressure to get the country vaccinated.

Nowhere is such a divide more evident than in Texas, where vaccination rates tend to vary widely from county to county.

Presidio County – a remote area in southwest Texas, home to about 7,800 people – although rural, has the highest vaccination rate in the state, with nearly all of its eligible residents fully vaccinated.

In the county, cell service is often spotty and the closed medical center is a few hours from most homes, but residents who chose to be vaccinated said they saw it as a matter of life and death. .

Rosendo Scott, a Vietnam veteran who battles amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, was more than willing to roll up his sleeves when he became eligible for a vaccine.

“We’re so isolated that we could easily fall like dominoes if something wasn’t done,” he told ABC News.

The Big Bend Regional Medical Center serves approximately 25,000 residents in a vast area of ​​12,000 square miles, said Dr. Adrian Billing, the hospital’s chief medical officer.

“It’s a 90-150 mile one-way trip to the ER, so I think part of that, just recognizing how limited we are when it comes to health care, has contributed to our rates of high vaccination, ”Billing said.

Given the extremely high demand for vaccinations, Billing said, all available health workers in the county have been removed from other duties in order to assist with injections.

“We had to shut down our medical and dental service lines, and our behavioral health service lines, those days we did 500 or 600 vaccines at a time,” Billing said, adding that he didn’t. not recently saw a single vaccinated patient wind up in the hospital.

Scott explained that he has a very high level of confidence in his health care providers and, therefore, in their recommendation to get the vaccine.

“I believe in science,” Scott said.

The county’s impressive vaccination rate has ensured the safety of residents, local leaders said, especially younger members of the community.

Scott’s wife, Allison, who is the principal of Marfa High School in Presidio County, told ABC News that thanks to the county’s high vaccination rate, there have been no cases of the coronavirus. in the K-12 public school system since the start of school.

“So far – and this is our eighth week of school – we haven’t had a positive case, so we’re still hopeful,” she said.

However, over 620 miles away in Lamar County, the story is very different. Despite the availability of vaccines, only 40% of residents were fully vaccinated.

Klark Byrd, editor-in-chief of The Paris News, a small town newspaper, said he believed the reluctance of vaccines in Lamar was largely due to “residents’ mistrust of the government, mistrust towards vaccine manufacturers, [and] mistrust, based on misinformation found on social media sites. “

Given the low vaccination rate in the county, Byrd has posted editorials urging residents to speak to their doctor.

Although Byrd himself was not vaccinated, due to a pre-existing health condition, he said he was taking all necessary precautions to keep him safe, with hand sanitizer, masks and a social distancing.

“Sometimes I’m the only one with a mask, and it’s worrying, but I keep my distance from people. If I turn down an aisle at Walmart, and it’s crowded, I’ll avoid that aisle. and I will wait for it to fade, ”he said.

Among the many people who chose not to get shot is Kacy Cole.

Despite seeing firsthand how severe COVID-19 can be, with several close friends and family, including his wife, contracting the virus, Cole said he had not reconsidered its anti-vaccine stance.

“It isn’t,” Cole told ABC News. “We have prayed about it and firmly believe that a lot of faith is involved in a lot of the things that we do.”

Cole and other residents’ decision not to get the vaccine has been a tough pill for many frontline workers to swallow.

Dr Amanda Green, director of health for Lamar County and chief medical officer at the local hospital, explained that she wanted to do everything possible to keep her community healthy and educate the public about vaccines, but she tries to be realistic in her conscience that she can never be able to convince everyone.

“There are people who I think will never change no matter what,” Green told ABC News.

From Green’s perspective, such vaccine hesitation can be a fatal choice. She singled out Ronnie Stanley, the husband of a local nurse who chose not to be vaccinated. After falling ill with COVID-19, he ended up in intensive care and died late last month.

“No one is invincible with this disease, she doesn’t care, she doesn’t discriminate,” Stanley’s widow Amanda told ABC News. She had urged him to get shot from the start, but he was stuck in his ways, she said.

“He knew it was as real as it is, (but) he didn’t know he would have been affected like he did. I think if he had known, then absolutely he would have. vaccinated and, you know, saved us all the torment that we saw last month. But yes, he was not vaccinated, and others think that played a big part in his death, “Amanda said

She now seeks to convince those who are still hesitant, by telling her story.

“I don’t believe it has anything to do with politics,” she said of the COVID-19 vaccine. “I believe this vaccine was created by brilliant doctors and scientists, and God gave them these abilities. And that’s what people have to understand, it’s a selfless act when you get the vaccine. is not for yourself, but it is for those you need to protect. “

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