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% 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% 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% of adults having received at least one shot. Nationwide, 65% 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% 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% 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.
Around the state the situation is not the same. If Teton County has seemingly turned a corner in its fight against the virus, others are still looking to do so. The others in the top five have between 40% and 45% of their populations vaccinated, not enough to provide strong protection against transmission.
That’s true in Laramie County, where 35.8% of residents were vaccinated as of Monday, which was good for fifth in the state. At the same time the county had the highest case rate in Wyoming at 254 infections per 100,000 residents in the past 14 days.
What’s most concerning to Emmons, director of the Laramie County Health Department, is the high number of hospitalizations — 24 as of Monday, according to self-reported data on the state Health Department website. Because the older population in her county was eager to be vaccinated, the recent spate of severe illness has been in other groups.
“In the 18-to-64 age range, 39% of those are vaccinated,” Emmons said. “And that’s really where we’re seeing people in the hospital.”
Health officials say that all this is evidence that the unvaccinated should come off the sidelines. Data from around the region shows that in recent cases the percentage in vaccinated people, so-called “breakthrough cases,” is miniscule.
In Eastern Idaho, labeled a COVID-19 hotspot as recently as this spring, of the more than 8,000 cases reported since Jan. 1 just 54 were breakthrough cases, a rate of 0.625%, according to Eastern Idaho Public Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that as of April 30, when it switched monitoring of breakthrough cases to only ones with severe illness, the rate was just 0.1% nationwide.
In Wyoming 97% of people who reported their vaccination status after testing positive for the coronavirus said they were not vaccinated, Deti said. Until the overall vaccination rate increases, the potential for spikes remains, particularly for those who are not vaccinated.
“If our coverage rates remain low, the risk for illnesses in Wyoming continues, and that is disappointing,” Deti said. “The situation in Laramie County right now is of particular concern, and we don’t want similar circumstances to occur in other communities over time.”
Health departments in areas with spiking cases say they are still seeing interest in vaccines, just at a slow pace. Campbell County Health Department Executive Director Jane Glaser said older people in her area were quick to get the shots, but the county still only has about 18% of residents vaccinated.
She and her staff are still seeing people come in as they are convinced by friends who were vaccinated or by seeing loved ones go through the disease. They believe that the gradual pace will continue.
“We are climbing,” Glaser said. “It’s just a slow climb.”
“If our coverage rates remain low, the risk for illnesses in Wyoming continues.” — Kim Deti wyoming department of health