Rural Minnesota counties lag behind vaccination rates


How quickly your neighbors have been vaccinated against COVID-19 depends a lot on where you live in Minnesota.

In large urban counties, the vaccination rate is high – exceeding 75 percent of people 16 and older with at least one dose in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, for example.

It is a different picture in many rural counties. Pine County in east-central Minnesota, between the Twin Cities and Duluth, is one of nearly a dozen where most people have so far chosen not to get the COVID shot -19.

Share of Minnesota adults with at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, by county

David H. Montgomery | MPR News

“I just don’t think that at 39 I should worry that much,” said Jaime Schreur, a resident of Pine City. “I’m not really sure what the hype is, to be honest. I don’t know anyone personally who has been affected by it, so I don’t see what everyone apparently is.

At Sauser’s Hardware in downtown Pine City, there is no longer any evidence of the threat of the pandemic.

“We no longer have restrictions in place,” said Michael Sauser, owner of the business with his wife Mary Ellen. “We’ve taken our spit shields off and we’re pretty much back to normal now. ”

Two smiling people.

Michael Sauser and his wife, Mary Ellen Sauser, own the Sauser’s Hardware store in downtown Pine City.

Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

But public health conditions are far from normal in Pine County and many other places where a large percentage of people have chosen not to be vaccinated.

“All I can say is if you are not vaccinated, this virus will find you,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Localized outbreaks will continue as the virus and its variants spread among the unvaccinated, Osterholm said.

“When you look at those who are not vaccinated, you know this pandemic is no different for them now than it has been in the past year and a half,” Osterholm said. “They are at risk of getting infected, and to such an extent that they do, they will surely suffer from serious illnesses – and some of them will die.”

At a recent wedding reception in Pine County, a dozen unvaccinated people contracted COVID-19, said Samantha Lo, administrator of community health services for Pine County.

“We are obviously worried that people will continue to get sick, go to hospital and die,” Lo said. “You can see these really dire consequences happening.”

Dr Peter Henry is the chief medical officer of Essentia Health, which operates a hospital and other facilities in Pine County.

“I would be dishonest to say that I am not frustrated, but I am also trying to understand the resistance of people to be vaccinated,” said Henry, stressing that it is not only the unvaccinated who face the consequences.

“The more we have to care for people with acute illness over COVID, it also impacts what kind of catching up we have to do in relation to the daily medical care that has been postponed,” Henry said.

Henry said he hopes vaccine skeptics will change their minds when they see friends and neighbors doing well after their vaccinations, while unvaccinated people continue to get sick and sometimes die.

Health officials say even a single skeptical vaccine can snowball, and when someone knows that a family member, friend or colleague has chosen to be vaccinated, they may also reconsider their vaccine. decision.

Lo said she and her colleagues in community health services were focusing on raising awareness.

“Parades, fairs, grocery stores, gas stations,” Lo said. “Wherever they are already.”

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