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COVID-19 Still Lingering in Rural Communities

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to linger even as society and rural communities are ready to move on. Dr. Michael Stevens, West Virginia University System Health Care Epidemiologist, Morgantown, West Virginia, says rural communities have seen disproportionate levels of COVID.

“Rural communities have been disproportionately affected and impacted by the pandemic in terms of having more severe COVID related outcomes. And so, we’re still seeing that being an issue that’s beyond sort of access to vaccines and that sort of thing. All the reasons for that are not entirely clear. It’s absolutely critical that we do everything we can to protect everybody, but especially folks that are at higher risk, including people in rural areas and the best way we can do that really is via vaccination.” 

Dr. Stevens says the most recent vaccine booster can offer further protection from the original vaccines.

“The virus that causes COVID evolves periodically. Being boosted has been important to keep the vaccines working at the level they need to, to protect against severe illness. So, when we’re talking about new boosters, they’re doing two things. One, it’s boosting your immune system so that when you encounter COVID, you’re going to have an immune response and hopefully not get it, but even if you get it, not get it as bad. But the new boosters this bivalent booster, it incorporates both that original strain and sort of a blueprint that’s more similar to strains that we’re seeing currently. And so, that updated booster has the potential to really boost immunity.” 

Further, Dr. Stevens says COVID is not going away anytime soon.

“Society may be done with COVID, but COVID is not done with our society, and it’s better to start looking at COVID Like a chronic respiratory infection that we may have to deal with yearly. There’s a subset of folks that are going to get really bad illness with COVID, and it can kill them, and it’s still really causing very bad illness in a big sort of subsection of folks that are getting it, so COVID still out there. We can’t take our foot off the gas in terms of trying to prevent it. We really have to ramp up population immunity. The best way to do that with vaccination.” 

He encourages rural residents to get the COVID vaccine or vaccine booster.

“There’s just a lot of risk that’s still out there and there’s this concern we’re going to see fall and winter surge. If the patterns follow the patterns for the last couple of years, come November, January, we may see spikes in COVID activity, and the time to get protected is now. And I would encourage you if you’re thinking about it, just do it, go get it. We are entering flu season, get the influenza vaccine to, you can get both on the same day, it’s okay to do that, that’s the best thing you can do.” 

Learn more by contacting your doctor or visit vaccines.gov.