World, national and state health officials have made it plain: We’re in a race to get as many people vaccinated before various coronavirus variants significantly ramp up their spread and cause greater damage.
Our nation is rapidly increasing the number of people who are vaccinated against COVID-19. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the top 10 states in terms with the most people fully vaccinated include New Mexico with 22.65% as the state doing the best. Hawaii, weighing in at No. 10, has a fully vaccinated rate of 17.89%. As of Monday, Louisiana is No. 35 among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., with more than 719,000 of our 4.6 million people fully vaccinated. That’s about 15.49%. That’s good, but it’s not good enough.
Our more urban areas, including Baton Rouge and New Orleans, are doing well with vaccinations, much like other urban areas across the nation. Unfortunately, the early rush to get vaccinated in Louisiana has slowed. Some days we have more vaccine doses than we have volunteers providing arms in some places. Some of this is hesitancy. Some of this is limited vaccine access. Some of this is limited broadband access.
It was encouraging to hear newly-elected Julia Letlow from the 5th Congressional District tell a national television audience how important it is to get vaccinated. “You know, I just want to take a second to acknowledge all of the Americans out there who have lost family members to COVID. I want to say that I see you. I hear you. I, most importantly, pray with you,” Letlow said during a "Face the Nation" interview. “I'm a huge proponent of the vaccine. It has lifesaving capabilities. And I want to encourage anybody out there who's eligible to go ahead and get that vaccine. It's so important.”
Letlow, whose husband was lost to COVID-19 complications shortly after being elected to the seat she recently won, encouraged others to “look at my family, use my story” to understand why getting the vaccine is important to individuals, families and the state. “I experienced a tragedy in my immediate family and COVID can touch every family out there,” she added.
Letlow also used the national platform to talk about the need to expand rural broadband in underserved districts like hers in northeast and central Louisiana. Since broadband and internet access are important ways to schedule vaccine appointments, better access likely would have enhanced vaccine participation in situations like this one. President Joe Biden has indicated that he wants an infrastructure bill to include such expansions. Many Republicans have indicated that they are not interested another big-ticket spending bill just now. To her credit, Letlow said she is open to a discussion. That’s good.
Rural residents across the state seem less likely to get the vaccine, reducing our state’s chances of reaching herd immunity. Biden announced Monday that he’s insisting that vaccine access be within five miles of most U.S. residents. That’s a big help for rural Louisiana.
Thank goodness we have at least one congressional representative willing to say vaccines are a critical part of getting us out of this pandemic, and perhaps broadband access might help us now and later.