Where in Ky. is vaccine resistance highest? New interactive tools can help communities target education and outreach efforts

Adapted screenshot of University of Washington interactive map (click here); click map to enlarge it.

By Melissa Patrick

Kentucky Health News
It’s easy to find your locality’s coronavirus vaccination rate, but what about its vaccine hesitancy rate, or local interest in vaccination? Two new interactive tools reveal those numbers.
One uses data gathered by polling done through Facebook; the other shows the relative interest in vaccination shown by online searches.
The Facebook-gathered data are in interactive maps from the University of Washington, showing what counties (and even what Zip codes) are most hesitant to get a shot.

The maps by the university’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reflect answers to this question: “If a vaccine to prevent Covid-19 were offered to you today, would you choose to get vaccinated?” The answers are “Definitely,” “Probably,” “Probably not” and “Definitely not.” People giving one of the last three answers are considered vaccine-hesitant.

The maps do not break down the data by individual answers, but are interactive, and can be switched to show the percentage of people saying “Probably” and “Probably not.” That allows simple subtraction to produce the “Definitely not” figure for each area.

Another tool, called Google Covid-19 Vaccination Search Insights, uses aggregated, anonymized data from Google searches about vaccination. The weekly data is available by region and by county.
The trends reflect relative interest, broken down three ways: overall interest, vaccination intent, and safety and side effects. Click here to learn more about how the researchers process the data.
Another tool to help communities get their people vaccinated is the Vaccine Equity Planner, designed by Ariadne Labs and Boston Children’s Hospital,  to identify “vaccine desserts” where people have little or no convenient access to the Covid-19 vaccination.
How can these tools help? 
With barely half of Kentucky’s population having received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 61% of its adults having done so, the state still has work to do to reach the 70% level, the amount generally thought necessary to create herd immunity.
Among Kentucky’s 120 counties, 31 have one-third or fewer of their residents vaccinated, and only have reached a solid 50%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Data Tracker. The  bottom five counties are Spencer (22.6%), Christian (25.4%), Jackson (26.1%), Ballard (26.2%) and Lewis (26.2 %).
As Kentucky health officials work to get the other half of the state vaccinated, the information gleaned in these Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy tools can provide them with information to help design and evaluate public education campaigns and outreach efforts targeted specifically to people in their communities.

Resistance falls in some places, rises in others

The Facebook survey shows that in Spencer County, which has usually raked last in Covid-19 vaccinations, 9.13% of survey respondents in January said they would definitely not get the vaccine if it was offered. The week ending July 1, that number had dropped only slightly, to 8.51%.
(That number was calculated by subtracting the total for the somewhat-hesitant category, those who answered “Yes, probably” and “No, probably not,” from the “All” category, which includes those who answered “Yes, probably,” “No, probably not,” and “No, definitely not.”)
In the same six-month period, among the other four counties with the lowest vaccination rates, Christian County showed the greatest decrease in those who said they would definitely not get vaccinated. The figure moved from 28% in January to 12% in July. Ballard County also saw a drop, from 22.49% to 17.56%.
But on the other side of the state, in Appalachia, heavily rural Jackson and Lewis counties saw increases in the share of respondents who said they would definitely not get a vaccine. Jackson County’s vaccine resistance increased from 20.9% to 24.1%, and Lewis County’s rose from 21.5% to 39.6%.
To get a broader geographic sample, Kentucky Health News checked two counties in Southern Kentucky that are part of official Appalachia but fully outside the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field.
Metcalfe County showed a huge increase in vaccine hesitancy, with the percentage of respondents who said they would definitely not get a vaccine increasing from 13% in January to 33% by July 1.
But the next county to the east, Adair, showed a decrease in vaccine resistance, moving from 23.3% in January to 17.5% in July.
The survey found that fewer people said they were resistant to getting shot in Laurel and Clay counties too. In Laurel, that number dropped from 27.16% who said they would definitely not get a shot during the first week of January to 23.85%. In Clay, that number dropped from 23.21% to 16.42%.
Google Covid-19 Vaccination Search Insights
The Google Covid-19 Vaccination Search Insights tool showed that Kentucky’s internet searches related to the eligibility, availability and accessibility of Covid-19 vaccines were among the nation’s highest in the week ending July 4.
This surge in searches for intent to get vaccinated was likely driven by the distribution of the first lottery-style incentive for Kentuckians who had received at least one dose of a vaccine and signed up for it. The next million-dollar prize and five post-secondary scholarships will be held July 29, with the announcements made the next day. Go to shotatamillion.ky.gov for more information.
Google graph shows searches in Spencer County June 21-28.

The Google tool also has trends for each county. For example, searches showing interest and intent to get vaccinated increased in Spencer County between June 21 and June 28.

In the same week, Laurel County also saw a jump in general Covid-19 vaccination searches and an even bigger jump in searches for intent to get vaccinated. Searches for safety and side effects from the vaccine declined.
Adair County saw a dip in its general vaccine-information searches, but saw an increase in searches for intent to get vaccinated.
The interactive map shows that in the week ending July 4, searches for intent to get vaccinated were highest in McLean, Marion, Washington, Boyle, Woodford, Montgomery, Nicholas and Bracken counties.
The trend-graphics for the state also show the highest and lowest Google searches for each of the three categories in each Kentucky county. For example, on June 28, searches for intent to get vaccinated were highest in Nicholas County and lowest in Christian County.
Here’s a screenshot of the state’s vaccination tracker map:
State Dept. for Public Health map, adapted by Ky. Health News; interactive version is here.
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