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More Michigan COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease, slow vaccination rates in rural areas could hinder end of pandemic, CDC says

Posted at 4:09 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 17:22:41-04

(WXYZ) — As COVID case numbers continue to drop here in Michigan, restrictions are expected to be eased once again by Governor Whitmer's administration. And while we await the new plans, we’ll hear from our Chief Health Editor Dr. Partha Nandi. Dr. Nandi, you have concerns regarding more restrictions being lifted, can you tell us what they are?

Dr. Nandi:
I’m all for getting our lives back and returning to normal, but we need to be mindful that the virus still lives amongst us. And when you’re outside your home – like when you’re grocery shopping or running errands - you have no idea if the strangers around you are vaccinated. Unfortunately, there are unethical people in the world. And some of them who are not vaccinated will skip pandemic precautions. They’ll go around maskless and not social distance. So why is this concerning if the vaccines work so well? Well, first of all, only 39% of Michiganders are fully vaccinated. That’s still not enough to reach herd immunity. Plus, children under 12 are not yet eligible to get the vaccine. So if our restrictions get relaxed even more, and unvaccinated people are not taking the necessary precautions, it gives the virus plenty of opportunities to spread. And then our COVID numbers could spike back up. And the virus could possibly mutate into something more dangerous.

Question: Speaking of vaccination rates, rural areas are moving slower than hoped. If this doesn’t change, it could impact the country's efforts to control COVID-19 correct?

Yes, that’s right. Right now, vaccination rates are uneven all across the US. And that’s not surprising. But rural areas, in particular, are lagging behind. And there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, getting the vaccines to these areas is not always easy, logistics can be a challenge. Secondly, a recent poll found about 3 in 10 rural folks do not want the vaccine unless it’s required. This is a real concern because about 80% of those living in rural areas are considered medically underserved, meaning they don’t have easy access to a physician. And lack of care can lead to underlying health conditions, which we know places people at high risk for severe disease. So if the virus hits these areas, not only could it easily flourish and spread, hindering our ability to control it. But rural folks would be at an increased risk of hospitalization and death. Luckily, the government is aware of these challenges and is working with local doctors to address hesitancy and encourage folks to get vaccinated. And they’re also increasing vaccine coverage in rural areas, trying to meet locals where they live and work.