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Natural disasters ruined parts of rural Louisiana, disrupted the region’s vaccine drive

As President Joe Biden pushes for 70% of Americans to receive at least one vaccine dose by Independence Day, some parts of the country have a ways to go to meet that goal compared to others. Kara St. Cyr of Louisiana Public Broadcasting takes a look at the vaccination effort in one area of the Bayou state.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As President Biden pushes for 70 percent of Americans to receive at least one vaccine dose by Independence Day, some parts of the country have further to go to meet that goal than others.

    Kara St. Cyr of Louisiana Public Broadcasting takes a look at the vaccination effort in one area of the Bayou State.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    D'Adrea Rushing wasn't afraid to get the vaccine. In fact it was something she'd been waiting for.

  • D’Adrea Rushing:

    It's important for everyone.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    But she was hesitant for one of two reasons. First, she wasn't sure where to go to get it. And reason number two was all of this.

  • D’Adrea Rushing:

    A lot of damage, a lot of heartache.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    Rushing's family house is located in Region 5 in Southwest Louisiana, which is home to some of the state's most rural Parishes. It's also a place picking up the pieces of four major weather events that devastated the population in less than a year, two hurricanes, a historical ice storm, and major flooding.

    The mayor, Nic Hunter, says the people are trying their best to recover.

  • Nic Hunter:

    This community received several punches in the gut over the last 14 months.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    The destruction is sad, heartbreaking even, for people that lost their homes once, twice or maybe even three times. But Dr. Lacey Cavanaugh with the office of public health says the weather also devastated the vaccination effort before it even started.

  • Lacey Cavanaugh:

    People are just very tired here and have neglected their health in general because of these disasters. Of course, COVID vaccine is included in that.

    But even our mental health numbers, our folks that are following up on wellness visits, all of those have likely been impacted.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    Region 5, where Lake Charles is located, is underperforming when it comes to getting people vaccinated. Only about 21 percent of the population is fully protected against the virus, which is the lowest percentage statewide.

    There are several factors, beyond the catastrophic weather events, that are keeping those numbers down.

  • D’Adrea Rushing:

    I know that a lot of people are scared of it.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    Rushing is right. A lot of people are scared to get the vaccine, especially in Louisiana's rural communities.

    In Lake Charles, Lacey Cavanaugh says her staff debunks myths at almost every vaccination event.

  • Lacey Cavanaugh:

    Women who want to know if there's any proven effects on fertility. And there are no studies that say that it impacts fertility. So, I mean, that's one of those myths that we hear commonly.

    Of course, people want to know about safety and effectiveness, a lot of questions about the process. So, if I come here to get my first vaccine, then where do I go to get my second vaccine? So, they want those instructions.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    In early April, the Louisiana Public Health Institute put out a survey showing that about 70 percent of people who were hesitant were afraid of the vaccine's side effects and whether it's safe. The third most popular concern was whether the vaccine even works.

  • Lacey Cavanaugh:

    We have hesitancy here, the same as everywhere else across the state and really across the country. They're waiting to see how their friends and family who receive the vaccine, how they do.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    Jackie White with the Louisiana Department of Health says that meeting people where they are is the state's best strategy to change those numbers.

  • Jackie White:

    I think it's just making it more personable, and it's just putting faces to a flyer or to just an advertisement. It's true people that are getting out there. And they're also able to answer questions.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    Going to church events and small neighborhood organizations seem to be showing some improvement here, but going door to door and talking face to face is what really helps.

    That approach helped D'Adrea Rushing. She got her vaccine by chance when she heard a nurse yell that the vaccine was available in a Walmart she was shopping at.

  • D’Adrea Rushing:

    I got laid off. Then there's a pandemic. Then we had two storms. Then we had an ice storm. Then we had this flood.

    But you still need to get out there and get your vaccination.

  • Kara St. Cyr:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Kara St. Cyr.

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