Coronavirus pandemic magnifies health disparities in Appalachian Ohio

Coronavirus pandemic magnifies health disparities in Appalachian Ohio

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Where you live and where you grow up has a huge impact on your health.

That’s the case in Cleveland, and it’s the case in the rural parts of our state.

Just how wide are those gaps in health care? And how is that affecting access to the coronavirus vaccine?

19 News begins a new series called Bridging the Great Health Divide, a Gray TV initiative.

The rolling hills of Appalachian Ohio stretch from here in Northeast Ohio to the southern state line.

Darcie Debevec is a nurse in Ashtabula County.

“I love the people that we have in this county. I love the sense of community. I love the natural beauty that’s here. Our lakes, our rivers, our forests,” Debevec said.

Map of Appalachian Ohio.
Map of Appalachian Ohio. (Source: Appalachian Regional Commission)

Appalachian Ohio health disparities

But behind that beauty in the country is a struggle for many.

A recent map from the Appalachian Regional Commission shows Ashtabula, Trumbull, Jefferson, and Coshocton counties are all considered economically “at-risk” counties.

That means they are only one step up from having “distressed” economies.

“I say everything gets magnified by rurality. So things like access to care, transportation,” said

He’s also the Chief Medical Affairs Officer and a family physician.

Johnson said lack of resources, poverty, and the ability to get healthy food in Appalachian Ohio all add up.

And 19 News found chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes are much more common, making getting the coronavirus vaccine even more important.

But a study on COVID-19 just released by Ohio University shows what they call “significant opposition” to the vaccine.

About 56 percent of adult Ohioans said they’re willing to get the vaccine.

But just over half — only 53 percent — of people living in rural Appalachia are willing to get it.

“So how do we then work with those communities to then build trust that this is something that can really make a huge difference in their life?” Dr. Johnson said.

Reasons some are wary about the vaccine

Jennifer Demuth is with the Tuscarawas County Health Department often sees mistrust in government.

“I think sometimes barriers to getting vaccinated are just the belief system because there’s a lot of misinformation out about the vaccines,” Demuth said.

That misinformation is often on social media.

She said many younger people are not interested in getting vaccinated.

But for those 65 and up, the need is urgent.

“Many have lost friends and loved ones. And that is why we’ve had such a great response and interest level in the older population,” Demuth said.

Medi-Wise Pharmacy in Newcomerstown receives its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.
Medi-Wise Pharmacy in Newcomerstown receives its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. (Source: Medi-Wise Pharmacy)

Local pharmacy sees high vaccine demand

But in some places, there isn’t much hesitation in getting the shot.

“Actually, I’ve seen a more positive attitude of people wanting the vaccine than not,” said Jeff Neidig, the owner and pharmacist-in-charge of Medi-Wise Pharmacy in Newcomerstown.

Newcomerstown is a small village in Tuscarawas County with just under 4,000 people.

Their first shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine arrived last week.

Neidig said the trust they have with locals is invaluable.

“They’re calling us, asking us about our opinion, and, of course, we want them to get a vaccine. They’re all trusted, safe ways to improve our immunity and protect us from the disease,” he said.

Dorothy Lester lives down the street and just got her COVID-19 vaccine.

“I believe this shot is the answer to all prayers,” she said. “I just hope and pray everyone in our community gets this done, for their own good and safety.”

And about 150 miles away in Ashtabula County, Debevec got her vaccine too.

“I was so happy to be able to receive my vaccine. I felt very grateful, I felt like I could see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Access to the COVID-19 vaccine is increasing every day.

Now local agencies are working on plans for transportation, possible mobile vaccine vans, and navigators to help with appointment scheduling.

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