The latest tally from the Centers for Disease Control shows rural counties lagging behind their more urban counterparts in COVID-19 vaccination, renewing concern that rural hesitancy could disrupt efforts to contain the highly infectious disease. Rural cases overtook urban ones in September, and rural areas sport higher rates of both hospitalization and death.

All told, the vaccination rate for rural counties sits at 39%, almost a full sixth behind the urban average of 46%.

Rural areas have increasingly been the focus of vaccination efforts. Lacking the infrastructure of urban counterparts, rural residents were 50% more likely to have to travel to nonadjacent counties to get inoculated.

Conservative rural areas, in particular, have consistently populated the lower ranks of COVID-19 statistics, with the top states largely Democratic. Beyond practical limitations, hesitancy to receive the vaccine at all is higher in those areas.

Former President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and the importance of vaccination, portraying the virus as an attempt by alarmist Democrats to unseat him.

The Biden administration has worked to undo that messaging, partnering with NASCAR and spending over $10 billion to expand vaccination efforts in vulnerable communities. While that money will help places where vaccination is limited by, for example, the lack of a pharmacy, the partnerships hope to erode the persistent quarter of the population that says they have no interest in receiving the vaccine.

One hopeful note from the CDC’s data: Rural residents tend to trust their local doctors, opening an avenue to communicate information and distribute treatments.

“Notably, 86% of rural residents report they trust their own health care providers for information on COVID-19 vaccines, which highlights the importance of public health practitioners working with established outpatient health care systems in rural areas,” said the study. “Through its ‘Vaccinate with Confidence’ initiative, CDC continues to support rural jurisdictions and local partners in their efforts to improve access to, and bolster trust and confidence in, COVID-19 vaccines.”

The top US health authority now says fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks in most indoor settings
The top US health authority now says fully vaccinated people don't need to wear masks in most indoor settings AFP / JOEL SAGET