SPENCER, W.Va. – Chania Batten has as much reason as anyone to feel pandemic fatigue.
As a nurse working in a drive-through clinic at the only hospital in rural Roane County, West Virginia, she spent months patiently answering questions, dispelling misinformation and reassuring skeptics that COVID-19 injections are the key to fending off the coronavirus.
Batten shudders at the thought of the pandemic entering another calendar year.
“It’s frustrating,” said the mother of two young children. âWe all want to get our lives back. “
Shortly after the first vaccines were approved a year ago, West Virginia briefly led the country to get people vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the state quickly hit a wall of resistance and its ranking began to slide. How far it fell due to discrepancies between state and federal numbers is unclear, but the fight in Roane County suggests there is plenty of room for improvement.
Only about 45% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Almost a third of the state’s 55 counties have less than 50%, according to the CDC.
The reasons residents struggle to adopt the vaccine vary. And Batten, one of the frontlines in a long, difficult battle to persuade the often unconvincing people, has probably heard most of them.
âThere are still, honestly, a lot of questions about the vaccine and what’s in it,â she said. âThere are a lot of people who are still afraid because there is not enough information for them. You have all this paranoia.
But now, with the omicron strain of the virus suddenly raging among the American population, the urgency to get people to adopt the only known effective method of mitigating the virus has heightened.
Public hospitals continue to be stressed, warning that the number of patients is increasing and the numbers are declining. Projections show that the number of people hospitalized with the virus during the holiday season will approach the record of more than 1,000 set in September.
Roane General Hospital operates the main COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Roane County, one hour north of the state capital, Charleston. It’s perched on a hill in Spencer, a population of 2,000, where Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and other holiday songs blast from loudspeakers all over the town square. The 484 square mile (1,250 square kilometers) county has a population of 14,000.
In addition to her regular shift inside the hospital, there were times when Batten was the only nurse providing drive-thru, sometimes with as many as a dozen vehicles in line. .
âIt can get overwhelming,â Batten said, holding a notepad in the cold December air. “But it’s my job.”
Batten said she always enjoys the job and if she had to, she would go door to door trying to get people to get vaccinated. But in this part of West Virginia, little seems to be going on.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice tried on giveaways and appeared with a stark-faced bulldog named Babydog to try and get people to get shot. He distributed hundreds of thousands of state dollars through designs to vaccinated residents. Last month, he presented a check for $ 50,000 to a college in Roane County to encourage students and faculty to get vaccinated.
The hospital’s marketing campaign on the importance of COVID-19 injections includes daily social media posts, radio ads, and testimonials from doctors. But hospital CEO Doug Bentz said he didn’t know how those messages were being interpreted.
âIn fact, I think sometimes the media hurts things because people are so entrenched politically,â Bentz said recently in his office. âInstead of making a rational decision, they feel like they have to stick to a certain principle. There is a lot of misinformation out there. And unfortunately I think there just isn’t the trust we have in our government, in the media, for people to believe it.
The wear and tear of the nursing profession is evident. In 2020 alone, 1,700 nurses chose not to renew their licenses in West Virginia.
Batten, who recently recovered from a bout with the virus herself, doesn’t expect to join those who stop trying.
âYou always come here and work and do your job, but there are always people who don’t want to come in for the shot,â Batten said. âOr they don’t see what other people are going through, especially people who have lost loved ones in the hospital. “
Despite efforts to spread the word, many people are not even aware that the outpatient clinic is available. Batten says people ask her about the vaccine when she works inside the hospital. Others face different obstacles, either because of their age or transportation difficulties.
But then there are the voices of resistance. Whether for moral, personal or political reasons, some people say they do not intend to get the vaccine.
Roane General, a nonprofit hospital, has only 25 acute care beds for the entire county. In November, the hospital dedicated a facility expansion that cost more than $ 28 million.
Yet the new strain of the virus threatens to overwhelm them.
âI don’t think the general public understands what’s going on inside hospital walls, inside emergency rooms and inside hospital care floors,â Bentz said. âIt’s a different world. At Roane, we have limited resources. We have limited specialists. Yet we are obligated to provide ICU-type, high-acuity care with the resources at our disposal. It is not always ideal. but we have no choice.