More than 100 million people in the United States have gotten their first dose of a COVID vaccine. But as case numbers rise again and variants spread rapidly, some states are struggling to vaccinate their populations.
Watch the livestream in the video player above .
William Brangham spoke with local public media reporters in Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee Thursday about how vaccine hesitancy, political messaging, health care access and other factors are creating challenges for vaccine rollouts in their regions. He was joined by Ellen Eldridge of Georgia Public Broadcasting, Sebastián Martínez Valdivia of KBIA, and Blake Farmer of Nashville Public Radio.
Here are some highlights from their conversation, including why some states are seeing a variation in supply and demand for COVID shots across urban and rural areas, how conversations around the idea of “vaccine passports” are playing out in Georgia and which communities in Tennessee are in need of better messaging when it comes to vaccination.
What is holding up COVID vaccinations in some communities — supply or demand?
Many states have observed a significant gap in demand for COVID shots depending on where residents live. Martínez Valdivia noted stark differences between urban areas in Missouri, where people clamored for vaccines in short supply, and rural regions, where mass vaccination sites have found themselves with extra doses at the end of the day. It’s difficult to parse, he said, whether people in those areas are not getting vaccinated due to personal hesitancy or problems accessing online appointments.
Farmer said that many Southern states are in a “similar boat.” He added that a lack of local media in many communities has contributed to an information gap that’s left some residents unsure of how to go about getting a shot in the first place. Eldridge emphasized that access remains a major issue in Georgia, and that the process of scheduling appointments can pose prohibitive logistical hurdles for many residents of that state.
“Vaccine passports” are facing resistance in Georgia, despite precedent
Vaccine passports are a potential digital tool that would allow people to prove that they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to travel or participate in certain public events. Eldridge said that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp recently tweeted his opposition to the idea of these passports. But mandatory proof of vaccination has been required for years in many scenarios, such as international travel. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, however, Eldridge noted that this concept has become an “emotional” political issue.
COVID vaccinations are lagging in Tennessee’s rural white and urban Latinx communities
Early conversations around anticipated vaccine hesitancy centered largely around communities of color, many of which have historically endured abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the American medical establishment.
But Farmer noted that in Tennessee many residents of white, rural communities have demonstrated a significant resistance to the idea of getting vaccinated. He added that immigrant advocacy groups are making an effort to help Spanish-speaking residents in Nashville secure appointments, in many cases going door-to-door in those communities to ensure people have the information they need to get their shots.
Barriers hampering vaccine rollout in Missouri’s Latinx population
Despite Missouri’s large Latinx immigrant population, Martínez Valdivia said the state has not coordinated an effort to ensure those residents have access to COVID vaccines. Language and literacy barriers may prevent people in that demographic from accessing key information about the shots, he said, compounded by a potential lack of trust in those who are delivering that information. Martínez Valdivia added that grassroots organizations and unions are working to fill those gaps in the absence of state-led support.