As noted here last week, South Dakota — and South Dakotans — have done an excellent job so far in getting themselves vaccinated with one of the COVID-19 vaccines available. As of Monday, the Department of Health (DOH) online portal showed that 53% of South Dakotans age 16 and older had received at least one vaccination. It’s great news in our fight against the coronavirus.
But now comes the harder part.
South Dakota health officials, who have said they want to reach a 70% vaccination rate in the state, must now make their case to those people who have not yet been vaccinated. While some of those people are now making their plans to get the jab —anyone 16 and older is now eligible to get vaccinated — there are still those who will be hesitant or continue to refuse altogether.
Health officials held a press conference Tuesday in an effort to keep the vaccination momentum going, asking South Dakotans to “encourage each other to choose to be vaccinated,” Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon said.
Her plea comes as a recent study conducted by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, which is under the U.S. Department of Health, showed large concentrations of people with “vaccine hesitancy” throughout the western Dakotas and the entire state of Wyoming. The central counties in South Dakota have hesitancy rates of nearly 30%.
“We know we’ll have to circle back to folks who are hesitant for whatever reason,” Malsam-Rysdon told the Rapid City Journal last week. “So that will be work that we’re starting to do and have been doing, and we’ll have to continue to do to really tease out some of those populations that they either needed more time, they needed more information, they need to hear that information in a different way, so that they feel comfortable becoming vaccinated.”
Malsam-Rysdon and state epidemiologist Josh Clayton have said they want to dispel misconceptions and rumors, such as concerns that the vaccine fuses itself or alters a person’s DNA. They said this is not true.
“I think there has to be trust that it’s not like we threw a few things together and here’s your vaccine,” Clayton said. “It is built on many years of science and a very solid foundation.”
Another group being targeted is adults in their 20s. During last week’s media briefing, Malsam-Rysdon and Clayton both said officials are working to get this group more open to vaccination, especially since their typical behavior patterns could lead to more infections via social spreading.
Since this age group is relatively new to being vaccine-eligible, there are hopes that vaccination levels will pick up in this category.
As for those who are vaccine hesitant — which includes people who have been eligible for weeks or even months — it’s going to be a tougher sell, to be frank. For some, there remains a concern about a vaccine that was developed relatively quickly. For others, it is and will likely be an adamant refusal to take the vaccine for a variety of reasons.
This is going to make reaching the DOH’s 70% goal a tougher climb going forward (and, hopefully, upward).
But DOH officials and their medical partners have been up to the task so far in getting people vaccinated; once again, it bears remembering that South Dakota has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country. That success can continue, but from here on out, it may come only with a lot of very hard work and considerable persuasion.