Two new reports indicate that rural Americans are less likely to practice Covid-19 prevention measures and less likely to get vaccinated.
But, the studies said, changing what they hear about Covid-19 and the vaccines, as well as who they hear it from, may change their minds.
A study from the University of Texas A&M surveyed more than 5,000 people about how often they followed Covid-19 prevention recommendations like wearing face coverings, hand washing, social distancing, testing and avoiding travel.
They found that rural American were less likely than those who lived in urban areas to wear masks and work from home. While 52% of urban residents reported working from home, only 36% of rural residents reported working from home. And while 82% of urban residents reported wearing a mask, only 73% of rural residents said they had worn one. Rural residents were also less likely to avoid restaurants, change travel plans and disinfect their homes and work areas.
But, the researchers also found that there wasn’t a big difference between rural American and their urban counterparts when it came to social distancing, hand washing and canceling social engagements.
The Daily Yonder covered another study of Covid-19 attitudes in the summer of 2020. A poll conducted for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by Civis Analytics showed that rural communities were as concerned about the Covid-19 dangers as their urban counterparts.
“Counter to the national narrative, we find that rural communities are just as committed to staying at home and avoiding all non-essential contact with others as Americans nationwide,” the poll’s analysts wrote at the time of the release of the results.
Timothy Callaghan, PhD, and Alva Ferdinand, DrPH, JD, from the Southwest Rural Health Research Center at Texas A&M University School of Public Health, authors of the study, surmised that mistrust of officials could be part of the reason why, as well as political affiliation, noting most rural residents identify as conservative.
“By not engaging in recommended health behaviors, rural residents are placed at greater risk of contracting the virus and increasing case incidence in rural areas. Given the limited availability and capacity of the health care infrastructure in rural areas, this could lead to negative, yet avoidable, health outcomes,” the study said.
Education and messaging would be one way to get those in rural areas to practice the preventative measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the researchers said, but that messaging might need to come from a different source.
“Interestingly, however, our results also suggest that the source of these messages could prove to be vital,” the study authors said. “ Identifying which communicators of public health messaging are effective in engaging those who do not trust medical experts is an important direction for future research and could be critical to improving participation in each recommended health behavior.”.
Another study from the de Beaumont Foundation found that one-in-five rural Americans do not want the vaccine against Covid-19, and that finding those trusted communicators will be key in making sure they do get it.
In a poll conducted by the Foundation, 37% of rural Americans said they would not get the vaccine, compared to 41% of Americans overall who said they were “absolutely certain” they would. Sixty percent of Americans said that if the vaccine was available to them right now, they were “absolutely certain” or would “probably” get the vaccine, according to the poll.
Rural Americans were also more likely to consider the vaccine unsafe with 39% saying the vaccine was “a little safe” or “not safe at all.”
“There’s a great concern going ahead,” Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association, told Grey Media. Morgan said getting the vaccine to rural areas is one thing, but making sure those in rural areas get the shot is another.
“Among rural communities, generally speaking there’s a distrust of government activities,” Morgan said.
Dr Brian Castrucci, president of the de Beaumont foundation, said the focus needs to be on better communication.
“Words can save lives. Our ability to boost confidence in Covid-19 vaccines will depend largely on the language, the messengers, and methods we use to communicate to Americans that the vaccine will help keep them and their families safe and healthy,” Castrucci said.
Castrucci said rural Americans concerns shouldn’t be dismissed, but addressed. Fears surrounding the speed with which the vaccines were developed should be met with assurance that vaccine developers didn’t cut corners. He also recommended that health care providers stress to patients that the vaccines are safe and effective, as well as a way to protect family and get the economy going again.
“We just have to keep talking to people and making sure they are hearing these messages. Because misinformation is going to fill in any silence that is there,” Castrucci said.