Lagging Vaccination Rates Among Rural Seniors Hint At Brewing Rural-Urban Divide
Chris Reimer had never heard of Leopold, Mo., when he found himself rushing down a winding, two-lane road toward the rural, 65-person community in February.
Reimer, a social media manager in St. Louis, had made a split-second decision when he saw a local television reporter tweet about a 2,000-dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic opening to anyone after 3 p.m. that day.
“I jumped in the car and started driving south,” Reimer says, though the clinic was two hours away in Leopold. “I definitely saw other cars [on the interstate highway] and thought to myself, ‘I wonder if they’re going the same place I am?’ because we were all driving perhaps a little too quickly.”
Reimer arrived just before the clinic’s 5 p.m. cut-off time, and says he was thrilled when National Guardsmen running the clinic filled out his vaccine card.
“This is really happening! I am getting the vaccine,” he recalls thinking, along with a pang of guilt. At 50 years old, Reimer didn’t belong to any priority groups eligible for vaccination at that time in Missouri.
The Bollinger County Health Center, which put on the event with the National Guard, considered it a success, though over 1,000 doses went unused at that day’s clinic, and others went to urbanites like Reimer, willing to make a long drive to get their shot.
Early in the vaccine rollout, advocacy groups like the National Rural Health Association urged states to focus more resources toward rural areas like Leopold, which generally have older, less healthy populations and fewer health care options.