Vaccination rates slowing for adults and children

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COVID-19 vaccination rates lag in vast swaths of rural Florida compared to the rest of the state --- a pattern that also has been seen in other areas of the country, a new report shows.

Neither Franklin nor Gulf counties are immune.

The report, released Friday by the state Department of Health, said 55 percent of people in Florida ages 12 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

But in 23 of the state’s 67 counties --- almost all rural and largely spread across North Florida --- the rates were below 40 percent. The rates in nine counties were below 30 percent, including 24 percent in Holmes County, 27 percent in Baker County, 27 percent in Hamilton County and 27 percent in Union County.

In Gulf County the rate was 36.7; in Franklin it was 33 percent, as of Monday.

When just adults over age 18 were considered, the percentage in Gulf grows to 39.3 percent, and in Franklin to 38.9 percent.

And when just adults age 65 and older are analyzed, the data shows 75.7 percent in Franklin have had at least one vaccination; in Gulf the percentage is 69.1.

The report said nearly 10.4 million in Florida had received at least one vaccine dose as of Thursday and that about 8.7 million were considered fully vaccinated --- meaning they had received the required two doses of vaccines produced by drug makers Pfizer or Moderna or the one-dose vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson. It listed an overall population of 19,119,043 people ages 12 and older.

The report, which did not provide percentages of fully vaccinated people by county, reflected a pattern of lagging rural vaccination highlighted last month by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Disparities in COVID-19 vaccination access and coverage between urban and rural communities can hinder progress toward ending the pandemic,” the CDC said in a May 21 report. “Public health practitioners should collaborate with health care providers, pharmacies, employers, faith leaders and other community partners to identify and address barriers to COVID-19 vaccination in rural areas.”

The CDC report pointed to issues such as rural residents having to travel farther for vaccinations and cited vaccine “hesitancy” in rural areas that is a “major barrier that public health practitioners, health care providers, and local partners need to address to achieve vaccination equity.” It also said many rural residents face particular health risks from COVID-19.

“Rural communities often have a higher proportion of residents who lack health insurance, live with comorbidities or disabilities, are (65 or older) and have limited access to health care facilities with intensive care capabilities, which places these residents at increased risk for COVID-19–associated morbidity and mortality,” the CDC report said.

Of the 23 counties in Florida that had vaccination rates below 40 percent last week, all but two --- Bay and Clay counties --- have overall populations below 75,000, the Department of Health report said. Also, all but two --- Hardee and Okeechobee --- were in North Florida.

David Adlerstein assisted with this story.

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