Vaccine hesitancy among rural white evangelical (United States)

Boy oh boy.

I’m in one of those moods where I’m all fired up about something! In this instance, I’m all fired up after listening to an episode of the New York Times’ ‘The Daily with Michael Barbaro’. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this particular podcast and it’s definitely in the mix of the podcasts I listen to throughout the week.

This particular episode focused on an aspect of the current COVID-19 pandemic; that of vaccine hesitancy among certain parts of the American citizenry. In this case, white rural and evangelical Christians. The episode featured a journalist interviewing a medical doctor in one of these rural areas, a man who can somehow hold both scientifically-based medical knowledge and (again, somehow!) evangelical views of a particular religious faith. Anyway, the guy caught COVID-19 from a colleague some time earlier in the pandemic and it struck the guy hard – stayed in hospital for a month, at one point was on a ventilator and had recorded messages to farewell his children and wife. It was THAT bad. Anyway, seeing as he’s being interviewed, he did obviously make a recovery and he decided to start putting out messages to his community via social media, telling his community of the sheer trauma that was likely for THEM if THEY caught the disease and to do everything they could to protect one another – including taking the vaccine.

Apparently, this was a big deal – the fact that a local doctor was saying this, this (the episode explained) was going to turn heads in the local community, where a local doctor can have a huge role in communicating directly to citizens.

It was this craziness (from my viewpoint) combined with the doctors religious utterences that caused me to lose my … stool.

I mean, what the f@#$?

These people have been able to watch TV, radio, presumably have internet access for this long into the pandemic and they needed a local doctor to go through it before they’d consider getting vaccinated? This is grade-A crazy. This shows just how politicised and how tribal and how superstitious some folk can be. They’ve had plenty of time to absorb the messages from the likes of Anthony Fauci and others and if they very reasonably decided to ignore politicians like Trump they should have had NO ISSUE with following this fairly basic public health advice.

What does all this mean for the standards of education and critical thinking in some of these places in America? I’d like to think the stereotypical rural bible-belt folk is too simplistic and hammy, something Hollywood elites might create, but it seems there is a certain truth to it – a sort of limited conceptual view of the entire world, hemmed in by the nonsensical witch-man talk of pastors from pulpits and by tribal politicisation that further entrenches division. Long story short, made me proud to live in Australia, where almost of all these goings on, especially the local doctor getting COVID-19 would have been – well, yeah he got in contact with someone before they knew they had symptoms and it’s going to do that until enough of us are vaccinated. All this talk about needing ‘Gods help’, or ‘God’s handling this’ … just crazy.

But actually, come to think of it, it’s NOT all limited to the United States.

I HAVE learnt that there are holdouts of vaccine hesitancy among immigrants to Australia. These communities are new to Australia and rely (apparently) heavily on local community (faith?) leaders to guide them through the living of a life in Australia. Apparently it is something our government must do – engage with these community leaders – to ensure that any message of public health – like ‘go get vaccinated’, is heeded. I’m not sure why this is the case – it has been suggested that some immigrants are from countries where the public health service has NOT met their needs, where they have NOT felt safe in its care and where people supposed to assist these peolpe have instead done harm. If this is the case, it’s absolutely not my place to criticise how they are to be convinced to see the light on our Australian approach, but I do wish this was more of an open-shut case of statistics and risk – getting a vaccine and possibly having a side-effect is far less risky than remaining unvaccinated and risking eventual COVID-19 or — heaven forfend — Long COVID.


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