Wyoming is home to the 11 most vaccine-hesitant counties in the nation, according to statistical modeling conducted by an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Thirty-two percent of residents in Johnson, Converse, Washakie, Crook, Niobrara, Weston, Natrona, Goshen, Campbell, Platte and Carbon counties are believed to be hesitant toward the inoculations, more than any other counties in the U.S.
All 23 Wyoming counties were in the top 1% for most hesitant in the U.S. Only Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota reported similarly reluctant populations.
The estimates rely on a U.S. Census Bureau survey assessing public attitude toward the vaccines over time. Wyoming overall ranked second-lowest to Mississippi for its proportion of residents likely to accept a shot.
Government statisticians took that survey and used it to predict how hesitant individual communities will be toward the inoculations. The report’s authors did not provide a margin of error for each county but did stress the figures are statistical estimates and could be swayed by any number of variables.
Local officials are hoping that’s the case. Natrona County Health Officer Dr. Mark Dowell previously told the Star-Tribune he felt survey data was valuable but gave only a snapshot of what was happening in the community.
Still, he did say low vaccine uptake would be a concern.
“I see this getting better and better. I really do,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “But this is a tough time right now because spring break just happened, people are loosening up too quickly, I think. We may be saved by enough people getting vaccine, the warmer weather, and that kind of thing.
“But if people blow off the vaccine now and cold weather comes again in the fall and winter we don’t know if there may be a relapse in some of this if not enough of the population is protected.”
And uptake has slowed. Wyoming was among national leaders for getting shots in arms in the early days of vaccination, but now the state is in the bottom 10 for the percent of residents who have had at least one shot, according to analysis by The New York Times.
The state also ranks in the bottom half for those who are fully vaccinated (roughly 23%, including federal figures.)
The hesitancy data comes as federal regulators pause administration of one of three FDA approved COVID-19 vaccinations for a safety review. Experts have stressed the action should not affect public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, but have acknowledged that is a concern.
Distribution of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is on hold while officials investigate a potential link between the shot and a rare, severe blood clot that has been identified in six individuals nationwide.
Federal officials have urged states to temporarily stop administering the shots, which Wyoming has done.
“Our latest data shows that we have administered more than 7.2 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine and have yet observed only six of these cases,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told reporters during a White House briefing Wednesday.
“Right now, we believe these events to be extremely rare, but we are also not yet certain we have heard about all possible cases, as this syndrome may not be easily recognized as one associated with the vaccine,” she added.
The clots have so far been identified in six women between 18 and 48 years old, each within 13 days after receiving the shot.
Similar events, though also rare, have been reported in recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine being used in Europe. That shot and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have similar construction, Walensky explained, leading U.S. regulators to proceed with extra caution.
She also said the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines utilize different technology and so are not a concern.
Walensky said the pause is not meant to alarm anyone, and should not signal to any of the more than 7 million people who have already received the shot that it is unsafe. Rather, she said, it is a precaution to ensure safety while alerting health care professionals to be on the look out for this specific, rare adverse reaction.
She added she hoped the precaution would assure people federal regulators were taking every potential concern seriously.
Just under 10,000 Wyomingites have received a Johnson & Johnson shot.
Follow health and education reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @m0rgan_hughes