By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, University of Kentucky
Millions of Americans say they have decided not to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families and their neighbors from the coronavirus, but polling and anecdotal evidence show that some will change their minds. News media have a role to play in that, especially in rural America, where vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the nation, sometimes dangerously lower.
Few vaccine-hesitant or -resistant people are likely to be persuaded by a news story or editorial urging vaccination, but it's important to keep delivering facts about the vaccines, because social media are awash with misinformation about them. And there's another way to promote the shots: lead by example.
That's what Alan Gibson, editor and publisher of the Clinton County News in Albany, Kentucky, did this week. On the back page of the newspaper is a "house ad" telling readers that the paper's entire staff of five is vaccinated and urging readers to do likewise.
Gibson told me he got the idea from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce
's "Covid Stops Here
" campaign, which provides signs that businesses can download and print to display their level of vaccination, and lets them post their logos to do likewise.
Gibson knew his staff was fully vaccinated. "I thought, we should promote this," he said. Why? "We're one of the hardest-hit counties in the nation but we're one of the slowest to get vaccinated." And he thought it would be better to persuade by example than to lecture: "Do as I do, you know? I'm tired of arguing with people, because the arguments aren’t valid." He said it's worth the effort "if just one or two people look at it and say, 'I need to go ahead and do this.'"
|Clinton County (Wikipedia map)|
Gibson could be called a beacon in a wilderness. Only two other newspapers have their logos posted on the Kentucky Chamber site, and they're in the state's most highly vaccinated counties: The State Journal
of Frankfort, in Franklin County, and The Woodford Sun
, in Versailles; 79% and 77% of the adjoining Bluegrass counties' vaccine-eligible residents, respectively, are fully vaccinated. In Clinton County, it's only 38%.
What are you doing to promote vaccination? In addition to editing and publishing The Rural Blog, I do likewise with Kentucky Health News, which sends a weekly update to Kentucky editors. A few weeks ago, I told them, "There is no more immediately pressing public interest in this country than persuading people to get vaccinated, and local medical professionals and news media are more trusted than those at state and national levels. Please do your part. It's a slog, but if the heroes of public health can do it, so can we."