The city of Wyoming reflects vaccine frequency in the conservative US
Gillette, U.S.A. (AFP) – With her beloved grandmother’s health deteriorating, Lauren Bavenning’s family is insisting she receive a COVID-19 vaccine…
Gillette, UT (AP) — With her beloved grandmother’s health deteriorating, Lauren Pfenning’s family insisted she receive a COVID-19 vaccine before she makes her final visit.
She spent more than a week researching vaccines on the Internet and worried about the decision during and after 12-hour shifts at her job moving coal at an open-pit mine near Gillette, Wyoming. Her grandmother passed away earlier this month before she made a decision, but Pfenning stands by her choice not to get vaccinated.
Bevining epitomizes the deeply independent and deeply conservative Wyoming lifestyle that has defined the state’s response to the pandemic and made it the second-least-vaccinated state as of Tuesday, behind only West Virginia. Only 23% of her county’s residents have been vaccinated, making it among the few places in America that have not exceeded 25% of their COVID-19 vaccination rates.
Gillette’s vaccine hesitation is emblematic of your free-living, work-of-your-own mindset toward the pandemic across conservative America at a time when a delta variant is tearing apart unvaccinated communities.
For every 100 people spotted around town in Gillette, the number of people wearing masks can be counted on one hand. Out of a group of six people downtown, all said they had too many concerns about a vaccine not to mess it up. Down the street, a black T-shirt displayed in a storefront warned, “Pay attention to the snow barriers: this is not a safe place.”
People are upset about the workplace vaccine mandate being pushed by President Joe Biden. When asked about workplace mandates and the option to bypass the requirement with regular virus testing, Pfenning’s immediate response was: “Test now!”
Outrage over presidential interference in Wyoming affairs is prevalent throughout the state, but in Gillette, it becomes personal.
The region’s massive coal industry has suffered a decade in decline amid competition from renewable energy and cheap natural gas, and President Barack Obama’s coal regulations – which President Donald Trump has lifted – have sparked anger among residents.
“It feels like one attack after another. I think we just want to fight harder at this point. Wyoming as a whole is tired of being pressured,” Bevining said.
All the while, COVID-19 patients have been filling several Wyoming hospitals including Gillette Hospital, the state’s third largest.
At Campbell County Memorial Hospital, 17 of 27 ICU and medical surgery patients recently contracted COVID-19, leaving only two beds open while the worst coronavirus cases have been moved to more intensive treatment in neighboring states.
Meanwhile, the local increase — up 34% in a week — has caused coronavirus cases to nearly four times the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Statewide, more than 96% of those hospitalized have not been vaccinated with COVID-19. However, the daily influx of COVID-19 failed to convince many Campbell County Memorial Hospital employees to get vaccinated.
Only 39% of the hospital’s workforce is being vaccinated, said the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Atilla Barabas, and there are no plans to require or incentivize it. The Wyoming statewide vaccination rate of 41% is well below the national average of 55%.
I am a firm believer in freedom of choice. I honestly think this is an essential aspect of being an American. And I think mandates can be annoying and can cause a bit of a backsliding,” Barabbas said.
The doctor got the vaccine and encouraged relatives and patients to do the same. In the end, said Barabbas, “This should be an option you choose.”
Wyoming’s view on vaccine mandates could soon swing. Wyoming officials are promising a tough fight against Biden’s mandate for vaccines, with talk of using the president’s coronavirus relief funds to reimburse companies for fines imposed on them for defying the mandate.
At the same time, they gently encourage people to get a jab.
In a TV ad showing people dancing to country music, a woman says she was vaccinated to be able to “spend a ladies’ night out”. Wyoming has spent $900,000 and plans to spend another $685,000 on such ads, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
The quest for balance with COVID-19 policies has at times annoyed Republican Governor Mark Gordon. In preparation for the imposition of an unpopular statewide mask mandate last year, Gordon criticized people who refused to take steps to control the virus, calling them “knuckle heads.”
This year, as the delta variant caused more deaths and disease for the state, Gordon promised not to authorize the mask but said people should be vaccinated “if you wish.”
The administration’s interim director, Stefan Johansson, said resistance to vaccines during the pandemic reflects a broader dilemma for public health officials in a region where prevailing attitudes are causing high rates of smoking, low influenza immunization, cancer screening and seatbelt use rates.
“We just have a demographic that I think is indicative of a Mountain West culture that, you know, is free-living and doesn’t always take health advice,” Johansson said.
For Pfenning, the coal miner, the decision not to vaccinate came down to her belief that the approval process had been rushed and that there were too many risky side effects, despite the fact that hundreds of millions of people had gotten the injections safely and avoided getting serious. Illness and hospitalization.
It has nothing to do with politics. I am so picky about what I give my horses, I am so picky about what I give my dogs. “We’re over-vaccinating,” Bevining said.
And while Bevining said her decision was not political, politics is spreading. In November, Wyoming gave Trump his largest margin of victory of any state, 70%. Campbell County gave Trump one of his largest winning margins in Wyoming, 87%.
Campbell County Commissioner Dale Schelstad summed up: “People here are so conservative that they have this grassroots saying, ‘Look, I don’t like the government that regulates my life.'”
Scott Clem, pastor of Gillette Central Baptist Church, is among the many in the city who have not been vaccinated. The former Republican lawmaker led a protest against the burning of masks at the Wyoming Capitol in Cheyenne in January, and said he trusted his immune system to protect it.
“It’s none of your business whether or not you get vaccinated,” Clem said. “That, I suppose, in a sense, is to be a person who is busy in other men’s affairs. I think that is some of the sentiment here in Wyoming. We are very tough individuals here in the West.”
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