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'This is a matter of life and death:' Pharmacist says rural areas still struggling to get vaccinated

It comes at a time when the delta variant, a more transmissible variant of the COVID-19 virus, is rapidly spreading across the U.S.

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — As the COVID-19 delta variant surges, rural communities are struggling disproportionately due to some areas having higher rates of unvaccinated populations.

10 Tampa Bay’s Emerald Morrow spoke with pharmacist Sandeep Singh about the vaccine landscape in the Zephyrhills community he serves.

NOTE: This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Reporter Emerald Morrow: The CDC reports Pasco County has a vaccination rate of about 45 percent. What would you say the vaccine rate is in the Zephyrhills community you serve?

Sandeep Singh, pharmacist: Anywhere between 20 to 30 percent. But it’s pointless for 20 to 30 percent of people to continue to try and carry the other 70 percent. It'll never work. Now those 20 to 30 percent are going to be protected and those 70 percent are still going to present a danger to them, regardless.

And we don't know too much about breakthrough infections and we're learning about that. And that's something that people should always be vigilant and mindful about, but they shouldn't let that deter them from getting the vaccine in the first place at all.

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Reporter: In the rural areas, what is driving this hesitancy?

Singh: I would say it's just a lack of education, whether it be not finishing school or lack of education because they're looking for information in the wrong places, or they don't trust the information that's coming to them…It's those types of things that are driving through resistance in the rural communities.

Reporter: How do we reach rural communities?

Singh: This really does start at home with family members in their community or even that live across the country, just letting them know that, "Hey I got the vaccine. I felt safe I felt comfortable after I got the vaccine."

A lot of the things they think is just speculation or you're just saying it because that's what your job is, but when we as professionals in healthcare say we're not saying it just because it's our job, it's just a deeper fundamental understanding of what these types of illnesses can do on a greater scale.

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Reporter: Have any of the vaccines been more successful than others in your community?

Singh: Johnson and Johnson far outnumbers the rest. People want one shot in rural communities, they don't want to come back for a second shot.

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