Of the COVID-19 cases still occurring in this region, 99 percent are among people who have not taken the vaccine to protect against it, a health official said.
A recent nationwide study suggests that 5.76 percent of people in Letcher County are “vaccine hesitant,” meaning they are unsure whether they will take the vaccine or are dead sure they won’t.
The results show respondents who answered “Yes, probably” or “No, probably not” when asked “If a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 were offered to you today, would you choose to get vaccinated?” The study was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University’s Delphi Research Group with support from Facebook. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation created interactive maps that show the hesitancy rates for counties and zip codes throughout the United States.
Just across the Virginia state line in Wise County, the hesitancy rate is nearly twice as high as here, with 10.26 percent questioning the virus. The percentage vaccinated is half that of the percentage here, with just 19.8 percent being fully vaccinated, and 3,302 cases of COVID.
The new cases come as a mutated version of coronavirus called the Delta variant is quickly moving to be the dominant strain in many areas, but southeastern Kentucky is not yet among them.
“We do not have any in the Kentucky River District or in Letcher County, but there are some cases in Morgan County and Jackson County, which are just outside the district,” said Scott Lockard, Kentucky River District Health Director.
Nationally, experts believe the variant will become the dominant virus in the U.S., and will cause a spike in cases and deaths in many southern and western states, where more people have refused to be vaccinated. More infections mean more chances for the virus to mutate again into something that current vaccines won’t control, though so far the vaccine has proved very effective against the Delta variant.
“My plea is for anyone who will consider it to get vaccinated,” Lockard said. “This variant is twice as contagious as the strain that has been dominant here.”
In Letcher County, the latest figures show 38.2 percent of the total eligible population is fully vaccinated, with the highest percentage among those 65 and over. Of those people, 66.6 percent are fully vaccinated and 68.8 percent have had at least one dose of vaccine and are somewhat protected. Among the age group 18- 64, 47.8 percent are fully vaccinated, and 51 percent have had at least one dose. The youngest age group, 12-17, is now 44.5 percent fully vaccinated, with 47.8 percent with at least one dose.
But while the vaccination rate is increasing, so are the number of cases among those who haven’t had the shot.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the seven-day moving average of cases in Letcher County increased over the previous week, though the actual number of cases is still small. Four cases occurred in one cluster on Friday. Health officials said those people are properly quarantining and isolating.