Idaho’s rural counties see highest death rates, lowest vaccination rates

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Idaho’s rural counties, some of which have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, are struggling to get vaccination rates up. 

While half of Idaho adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the majority of Idaho’s counties have not hit that 50 percent threshold. Of Idaho’s 44 counties, just nine reported more than half of residents ages 16 and older have been inoculated.

Meanwhile, 15 counties — all rural — have fewer than 40 percent of residents in that age group vaccinated, and two, Idaho and Boise Counties, are below 30 percent.

The counties with Idaho’s largest cities — Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bannock, Bonneville, Twin Falls — are all in the top half of vaccinated counties.

Rural counties in Idaho also saw the highest death rates in the state. Death rates, or number of people per 100,000 who have died due to COVID-19, give another picture of how COVID affected a given population. Ada County, the state’s most populous county, reported the highest number of deaths —  483 as of Thursday — but is in the bottom half of counties by death rate. 

Lewis County, with a population of less than 4,000, currently has the highest death rate due to COVID-19, followed by Shoshone, Owyhee, Gem, and Washington counties.

While COVID-related deaths have dropped off sharply in Idaho and across the nation, people are still dying from complications caused by the virus, and the vast majority of them are unvaccinated, the Associated Press reports.

Health disparities between rural and urban America aren’t unique to the COVID pandemic, and  a number of factors play into health outcomes in rural communities: Access to healthcare providers, an aging population, fewer health care workers per capita. A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said nonmetropolitan residents are more likely to die of unintentional injuries and chronic lower respiratory disease than metropolitan residents. Those living in rural areas also “have higher rates of cigarette smoking, hypertension, obesity, and physical inactivity during leisure time,” according to the report. 

In a media call on Tuesday, Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Administrator for IDHW’s Division of Public Health, said the department plans to continue its outreach efforts in Idaho’s rural and urban communities, partnering with providers for pop-up vaccination clinics at manufacturing and business sites, as well as rodeos and other public events. 

“As each of these events are going on, we might see anywhere from 14 doses given out in the course of the event occurring, to 50, to more than that,” Shaw-Tulloch said, adding that success varies depending on the community. “One shot is a success to me. That’s one more person that wasn’t vaccinated the day before.”

“We’re not giving up, I think is the biggest message here,” she said. 

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: