Low statewide vaccination raise concerns of future COVID-19 spikes

JACKSON – Despite the best efforts of public health officials, Wyoming still ranks 48th among states for the percentage of adults who have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine and 47th for those who are fully vaccinated.

“There are many people working very hard and trying everything they can,” Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti said. “I want to be crystal clear that Wyoming’s coverage rate is not for lack of effort.”

As of Tuesday 49 percent of Wyomingites above the age of 18 had received at least one shot, ranking the state above only Louisiana and Mississippi. Among that same adult group, 43 percent are fully vaccinated, meaning they have received two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson.

In some places that low number is fueling a rise in cases that worries those same officials proselytizing for vaccinations. 

Cheyenne/Laramie County Health Department Executive Director Kathy Emmons said the rise in cases in her area is in part due to people abandoning precautions without getting vaccinated.

“I think people definitely are over it, and they either think it’s gone or they’re not paying attention to it,” she said. “Or they just don’t want to do it anymore.”

Vermont’s vaccination rate sits the highest in the country, with 84 percent of adults having received at least one shot. Nationwide, 65 percent of adults have at least one shot, and the geographic disparities in vaccination rates are creating a bifurcated society in which some communities boast strong protection, even against variants, while others remain at risk.

In Teton County public health officials feel good about the state of the vaccination campaign. Across the entire population, 70 percent of residents are vaccinated; that number is 80% among adults.

As of Monday, Wyoming Department of Health data showed just 30 cases per 100,000 people in Teton County over the past 14 days, a far cry from when the Tetons were leading the state in cases. Even with coronavirus variants spreading, health officials think residents are well-insulated.

“What we’re seeing is that variants aren’t scary if you’ve been vaccinated,” Rachael Wheeler said. “So I do think we are sitting pretty well.”

Wheeler, the public health response coordinator at the Teton County Health Department, was referring to recent data that shows Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine offers strong protection against the Delta variant. Against the Alpha strain (the original), the vaccine was 93-percent effective, and it is 88% against the Delta variant.

Given that some studies have shown people are twice as likely to be hospitalized if infected with the Delta strain, that high level of protection is crucial. 

Though Wheeler said the Health Department will continue its vaccination efforts, she thinks the community is protected even though it is an island in a sea of counties with low vaccination rates.

“The more people in our community who are vaccinated helps kind of cocoon those other people who can’t get vaccinated,” she said.