With TN’s lowest county vaccination rate, should Moore brace for Delta variant?

For Moore County citizens, free vaccinations are available at the Moore County Health Department as well as local pharmacies. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

LOCAL HEALTH NEWS — Before the Delta variant arrived in Arkansas, the state sat among five U.S states with the lowest vaccination rates including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming.

Until recently, around 35 percent of Arkansas residents were vaccinated but in some rural areas of the state, the vaccination rate hovered well below 20 percent. But as the July 4 holiday approached, media reports of hospitalization due to the deadlier, more contagious Delta variant began to increase. According to Arkansas health officials, over 98 percent of the people being hospitalized were unvaccinated.

That’s when Arkansas Department of Health officials say vaccination rates started rising. Last Wednesday, the state reported more than 10,000 vaccinations in a single day. That’s their highest daily vaccination rate since May.

Low local vaccination rate could mean trouble

Like in Arkansas, many Tennessee residents, especially those in rural communities like Moore County, are reluctant to get vaccinated. According to COVID Act Now, as of July 5, Moore County had the state’s lowest vaccination rate at just 18 percent.

According to the latest state info, Moore County health official have administered 2,165 doses of COVID 19 vaccine but only 1,017 people here are fully vaccinated.

In general, around 42.5 percent of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated. Some larger counties like Williamson and Davidson, report vaccination rates above 50 percent but population isn’t always the best indicator of vaccination rates. Several other counties with similar populations all manage higher vaccination rates than Moore County.

Pickett County | 5,000 residents | 36% vaccinated

Van Buren County | 5,900 residents | 44% vaccinated

Moore County | 6,500 residents | 18% vaccinated

Hancock County | 6,600 residents | 26% vaccinated

Regionally, nearby Grundy County has the second lowest vaccination rate in the state at just 21 percent. Other surrounding county rates are: Bedford County (29%), Lincoln and Franklin counties (both 32%), and Coffee County (34%).

(All vaccination data taken is from the COVID Act Now website. Click here for a list of all county vaccination rates.)

When will Delta variant be in Moore County?

With a much higher transmission rate than the original COVID strain, it’s not a matter of if but when the Delta variant will arrive in Moore County.

On June 24, the Tennessee Department of Health confirmed 27 cases of Delta COVID in Tennessee, although they did not name the counties in which those cases occurred. On June 30, an independent Chattanooga lab confirmed a Delta case. Chattanooga sits just 63 miles from Lynchburg.

In Florida, where many Moore County recently vacationed, new COVID cases are up 35 percent. According to Florida’s Department of Health, for the week ending July 2, the biggest jump in new cases were among people 30-39 years old.

On average, Moore County also averages 3,000 to 5,000 tourist from as close as Nashville and as way away as the Netherlands.

Jack Daniel’s General Manager Larry Combs says the distillery doesn’t require proof of vaccination for visitors and employees who show proof of being fully vaccinated are not required to wear a mask.

“If they are not fully vaccinated, then we require them to wear a mask and socially distance,” Combs says.

Combs also says distillery officials are constantly monitoring local, regional and state trends in positive cases, and hospitalizations, and adjust their operations as needed if they see negative trends.

Due to our stringent actions and the great care taken by our employees, we have not had a positive case at the distillery in more than two months and have not had a workplace transmission in either production or at the Homeplace,” Combs tells The Times.

Will increased risk lead to increased vaccination rates?

Vaccine hesitancy is common in rural communities not only in Tennessee and the South but throughout the U.S. However, in Arkansas, vaccination rates started to rise, even in rural areas like Sharp, Conway, Johnson counties, as the perceived risk went up.

Arkansas health officials say as hospitalization numbers climbed, so did the number of people getting vaccinated.

“If incentives don’t work, reality will,” Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told CBS’s Face the Nation. “And as you see the hospitalizations go up, the cases go up, I think you’ll see the vaccination rate increase as well.”

Though many staunch anti-vaccination folks will likely never change their minds, many “wait and see” individuals may see the increased risk associated with the Delta variant as the right time to “go ahead and get vaccinated.”

The State of Tennessee offers free vaccinations to all citizens aged 12 and older in all 95 counties. For Moore County citizens, vaccinations are available at the Moore County Health Department as well as local pharmacies. To find a vaccine appointment near you, visit the Vaccine Finder website.•

{The Lynchburg Times is the only independently owned and operated newspaper in Lynchburg. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}