When a friend called late one afternoon in mid-March to tell us the local health department had some leftover coronavirus vaccine, my wife and I raced to the clinic.

I already had an appointment, but it was three weeks away. Why wait when I could get a head start on the road to immunity?

We were fortunate and had no side effects with that first Pfizer shot, or the second one 21 days later. After 13 months spent mostly at home, we could breathe a sigh of relief, more confident than ever that we could keep COVID-19 at bay.

It feels fantastic. 

The alternative, I assure you, does not.

I’ve had two separate stays at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s COVID-19 ward since November. I was transferred to a less restrictive unit each time following negative COVID tests, but four different doctors remain uncertain of my diagnosis. After reviewing CAT scans of my lungs, they each told me I exhibited all the signs of COVID pneumonia.

Tests and labels aside, I’m still dealing with the disease’s after-effects. I feel fine for a few days every time I finish a regimen of steroids and antibiotics, then it’s back to cough-filled, sleepless nights and emergency room visits.

Whether I’ve had COVID-19 or not, I don’t want it in my future. Believe me, neither do you.

Yet, for reasons I don’t understand, a way-too-big subset of Wyomingites — including several friends — flatly refuse to take the vaccine. 

Wyoming ranks in the bottom five states for percentage of people who have received one dose. The other lagarts are Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Idaho.

Among states, the two most vaccine-hesitant sub-groups are rural states and those that are majority Republican. Wyoming hits both benchmarks in a big way.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey last month found that some 3 in 10 rural residents said they would either “definitely not” get a shot or would do so only if it is required.

On one level, I get it: Vaccinations of any kind make many people wary. The speed at which the COVID-19 vaccine was developed has led some to question if it’s truly safe, despite universal reassurance from the nation’s public health experts.

Wyoming’s relatively low infection rate (so far) and the belief by young people that they are not likely to contract the virus or get severely sick if they do also dilute enthusiasm. 

I don’t mean to minimize any of these concerns, nor would I ever try to “shot-shame” anyone. But even if you’re not motivated by protecting your personal health or that of friends, family and neighbors, what about reopening the economy and returning to normal life? Isn’t that the common goal? Isn’t that what all those Republican-led anti-restriction protests were about? Wide-spread vaccination is a way — the only way — of actually accomplishing those things, not just complaining about them. 

State officials, including legislators, need to do a better job convincing people of the vaccine’s safety and efficacy. Those of us who have safely received the shots should also try to ease the concerns of others.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that rural residents are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19, for three reasons: They live in areas that lack healthcare access, are more likely to have underlying health conditions and are less likely to be insured — a situation that leads to dangerously delayed care.

That puts Wyoming several steps backward on the road to herd immunity. Scientists say a vast majority of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated to prevent the spread of the disease and end the pandemic.

For her part, Wyoming Public Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist is trying to get the message out that the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all safe and effective.

“I strongly encourage anyone who is eligible but who hasn’t yet been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible,” Harrist said in a statement last week. “These vaccines are free, safe and effective. They offer many benefits, such as the ability to avoid quarantine after exposure to COVID-19, and are the best route we have to outsmart the pandemic.”

The state has already lifted most of its restrictions after the CDC announced those who’ve been fully vaccinated don’t need to wear masks outdoors and can gather in most public places. 

In my view that was a premature move, because it sparked so many people who haven’t been vaccinated to now go maskless. Who can tell who is protected and less likely to get the disease and who isn’t?

The Equality State has everything to gain by encouraging more vaccinations and a lot to lose if we fail. Tourism is our state’s second largest industry. Thanks to the rapid upswing in the number of vaccinations since President Joe Biden took office in January, people are returning to restaurants, going to ball games and concerts and traveling outside their regions. The state could harvest a much needed windfall as stir-crazy tourists head to our national parks, fishing destinations and wide open spaces. Or, a resurgence of infections could race through our unvaccinated population, driving all those would-be visitors, and their dollars, elsewhere.   

Republican Gov. Mark Gordon and the GOP-led Legislature have spent the past year maintaining Wyoming needs to be as open for business as possible. So why have so many party members shrugged off doing the most responsible things to prevent the disease’s spread: first wearing masks, and now getting vaccinated?

The politicization of this public health crisis is mind-boggling. COVID-19 has now killed more than 600,000 Americans, and it doesn’t consider its victims’ political leanings. 

But recent Monmouth University and Quinnipiac University polls indicated almost half of Republicans did not plan to pursue vaccinations. Only about 5% of Democrats said the same thing.

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Biden won all 10 states where adults are least hesitant to be vaccinated. Wyoming is one of  the 10 most hesitant states, nine of which (all but Georgia) were carried by Donald Trump.

Despite the eased restrictions in Wyoming, I still wear a mask whenever I’m around others. This is as much for others’ protection as it is mine. 

If you’re fully vaccinated, I understand why you may feel safe enough to go maskless. It’s been a long year and we all deserve a break. But since so many Wyomingites have chosen to not take the vaccine, I don’t think it’s a good time to let down our collective guard.

If you’re concerned about the vaccine’s safety, please read about it, talk to a medical provider or ask someone you trust who’s taken it. You owe it to yourself, as well as family and friends, neighbors and strangers, to not just dismiss it out of hand. 

Because, for all of our stubborn independence and talk of self-reliant individual responsibility, this pandemic and our attempts to recover from it have made one thing abundantly, painfully clear: We’re all in this together.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Sad to see that large numbers of senior evangelical antivaxxers’ continue to die in a number of republican states.

  2. If you get a vax shot at, say, WalMart, they collect all sorts of personal information, and a drivers license (or SS number). They pass this information along to the feds to get paid for giving you a shot (unknown what the feds will do with the information or who they will share it with). Of course, WalMart will keep the information about you in their own corporate files, and they pass the information along to the state to put your information in a state vax registry (unknown how the state will handle the data).

    If you don’t trust the government, or WalMart, you are unlikely to get a shot. Additionally, illegal immigrants are less likely to get a shot if so much information is collected about them (Jackson, WY is full of undocumented immigrants as is much of the nation).

    Perhaps the first step to getting the rest of our neighbors vax’d would be to stop all the data collection.

  3. National statistics on Covid case rates and trends show that Wyoming has almost the highest case rate in the country AND IT IS RISING. Case rates in just about every other state are falling. I have heard no recognition of this in Wyoming media. If you want to see the rates, the NY Times has a handy webpage (it’s free): https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/us/covid-cases.html

  4. It’s as mysterious to me why someone wouldn’t get the Covid vaccine as it is why someone would vote for Trump or believe that he actually won the last election. It reminds me of what my Dad used to say when I asked him a question that he didn’t know the answer to, “beats the hell out of me!”

  5. Will the state have a stimulus plan for its residents ,,,Im still behind on my budget plan..I had to sacrifice alot of things and still not getting ahead of this mess were in??

  6. Yes, those of us who have spent hours perusing the efficacy reports and studies on the vaccines and come to the personal conclusion that the long term risks of these new mRNA therapies outweigh the benefits are just right-wing rubes. Forget the fact that no medical professional has any idea of the long term effects of these jabs. Just trust in big pharma, the government, the medical bureaucracies and the intense PR campaign and mortgage your future health for the good of the collective. Makes sense to me!

    https://ijvtpr.com/index.php/IJVTPR/article/view/23

    1. With your aversion to the vaccine, I assume you were, and still are, a proponent of wearing masks?

      1. If you’ve read the clinical studies regarding masks ( including those published by the CDC) you’d know that surgical and cloth masks are not effective in preventing respiratory infection or preventing the spread of such infections to others. That said, when masks were required I wore them (a properly fitted N95). If you believe the PR on the efficacy of the mRNA therapies being pushed then the only folks at risk of infection are those who have chosen not to be vaccinated – so my wearing or not wearing a mask has absolutely no impact to others.

        1. Questioning the efficacy of masks: check

          Questioning the efficacy of vaccines: check

          Referencing a suspect “medical” paper from an obscure source: check

          Not quite full blown conspiracy theory on the vaccine rollout. : half check

          If the shoe fits sir, wear it proudly.

          Cheers

          1. Effectiveness of masks from CDC compendium of clinical studies from 1917 to 2020 – before they pulled the study from their web site.

            Efficacy of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna efficacy reports. Please site a report that identifies the long term effects of the mRNA therapies – there ain’t any. Recent MIT/Harvard study reported high potential for impacts to individual’s DNA.

            Medical paper from obscure source written by 50 year MIT PHD.

            Dr. Peter McCullough (Google him for credentials) recently reported that 60% of COVID hospitalizations at his hospital are those who have been previously vaccinated.

            I do hope the “vaccines” work – but the long term impacts of these first ever mRNA therapies are totally unknown and could very well be catastrophic. There are very good reasons for not succumbing to public pressure and not getting the jabs.

  7. Kerry, I’ve read that Wyoming is 42 or 43 in the ranking of states when it comes to health care. One study said the low ranking was because lack of quality, of care not access. I would STRONGLY advise you to go to Colorado to a good pulmonologist to get your lung situation appraised. And maybe treated.( My partner had numerous misdiagnoses in Casper. )And when I was researching a death in the Laramie hospital, I heard stories that would make your hair stand on end. Quit worrying about WHY people won’t get vaccinated ( some believe Covid is a hoax) and fend for yourself– which is The Wyoming Way,– the rugged individual syndrome.. .

  8. Interestingly, the New York Times published an article on Monday, May 24th which studied vaccine hesitancy. The overarching reason that people would NOT get a vaccine was not related to their political affiliation or race.
    The main reason: class.

    Lack of education, with working class labor and outlook cut across all other factors. Labor unions, which used to provide a communal outlook and tether members to their society and larger community, are for all practical purposes, non-existent. Workers with starvation wages trying to provide for families aren’t motivated by appeals to “help your neighbors!” Specially, when it appears that your neighbors are out to pin you to the wall.

    The GOP majority legislatures, so eager to reduce Federal wage assistance to return workers to economic servitude, provide ample evidence of the, “we are not YOUR neighbor” mindset. So does cutting funds to educational systems. Not that Wyoming legislators are paying attention to THAT concern.

    So, Wyoming, in our divided state where the elite don’t give a rat’s hinny about low wages, lack of affordable housing, adequate funding for schoolchildren and food insecurity, stop wondering why others aren’t motivated your appeals to their altruism. Instead, think of how they will relish bringing low, all you high and mighty ones…

    1. A very plausible explanation. Seems like covid-vaccine hesitance is another symptom of our growing wealth inequality.

      1. How can anyone make the argument that not getting the vaccine was because of ” class” , when the vaccines were totally free of charge to the individual ? Readily available , too.

        That whole ” class” argument is not a proxy for cost. Not geting the vaccine is/was/ remains a matter of personal choice , which IS a proxy for one’s belief system with a strong sideways glance at the politics of it.*** How could it be otherwise in the USA ? India, maybe, Not here.

        *** purposely not mentioned: Conspiracy theories and disinformation personified

  9. Without a doubt, the Covid 19 Pandemic Response was also a state and national IQ Test.
    In order to dumb it down eno0ugh so the test could be administered to all manner of folks, it was distilled to three basic questions:
    1. Did you willingly wear a facemask in public ? Yes ____ No____
    2. Did you willingly get vaccinated when offered ? Yes____ No ____
    3. Did you willingly vote for Donald J. Trump ? Yes____ No ____

    If answering Yes to the first two queries and no to the third, you passed the test and are of above average intelligence. If you answered No tot he either of the first two questions and Yes to the third , you failed the IQ test. Simple as that.

    Remember, in any statistical poll, by definition half of those evaluated will be below average. That’s how it works.
    The roughly 49 percent of Americans reckoned below average by this test were the Trump supporters. Explains much. Spot on. There’s your Trumpian democraphic in one swoop.
    Except here in Wyoming where we had to grade the State pandemic IQ test on the curve. That’s because 72 percent of those taking it ( read: Trump voters and anti-maskers anti-vaxxers ) were demonstrably below average intelligence. Verified by the readout of the percentage of Wyomingites who have gotten vaccinated to date ( second lowest in the nation . At least Wyoming can look down on Mississippi concerning that unfortunate quotient )

    What’s your Covid IQ ?
    Yup.

  10. (VARES) reports are enough for me to Not take the Experimental Jab. Not FDA , doesn’t necessarily stop covid, Should not be Vaccinating During a Pandemic, how many Boosters are you willing to take???
    People are waking up and researching for themselves!!!

    1. Parroting what you read or hear from anti-vax propaganda on fox or Facebook isn’t research.

  11. A Wyoming Native, I continue to scratch my head in disbelief in the reluctance of family, friends and fellow community members who refuse to receive Covid-19 vaccinations let alone wear a mask. I can’t help but wonder how they would have reacted to Polio, Small Pox and other health challenges? I revert back to my Wife’s wisdom of saying, “Everything can be justified.” Will Humanity survive it’s own demise of ignorance?

  12. Your obvious bias is clear. What happened to my body, my choice? Let’s wait and see your fate first, ok? Your opinions are making it less favorable to move to Wyoming.

    1. I hope you believe in “my body, my choice” in regards to contraception, abortion, and gay rights as well?

      If not, why? If your decision is good for you, why can’t it be for others?

  13. Could the COVID-19 symptoms be the result of a morphological change due to the many, many stressors you have endured?