Kentucky tries to overcome ‘crazy’ internet conspiracies to ramp up vaccine effort

Published 6:31 pm Thursday, April 22, 2021

Looking to reverse a slowdown in the COVID-19 vaccination rate, Kentucky officials are “working every angle” to increase the number of shots going into arms, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

Supply is no problem in combating the pandemic, with more than 550,000 doses of the vaccine on hand statewide, the governor said.

“It has never been easier,” Beshear said at a news conference. “Nobody has to wait anymore.”

Nearly 1.7 million Kentuckians have received at least their first COVID-19 shot, but the vaccination rate has dropped considerably, he said. About 85,000 Kentuckians were vaccinated in the prior week, less than half the number receiving the shots during a peak week in March.

“We are working every angle that we can think of” to increase the vaccination rate, Beshear said, adding that the rest of the country also is dealing with a drop off.

In Kentucky, more initiatives will be announced soon. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will stand up two new regional vaccination sites soon in eastern and western Kentucky, Beshear said. An overarching goal is to provide easier access to get the shots, he said.

“We’re really going to have to get to the point where if there’s going to be a festival, there’s a tent where you can get vaccinated,” he said. “If there is a big sporting event, if they’ll let us, there’s going to be a tent where you can get vaccinated.”

“If you’re going to the grocery store, there’s a spot where you can get vaccinated,” he added. “If you’re going to pick up your prescription drugs, there’s a spot where you can get vaccinated.”

Once 2.5 million Kentuckians receive at least their first COVID-19 shot, Beshear has pledged to lift capacity and physical distancing restrictions for nearly all businesses, venues and events catering to 1,000 or fewer patrons.

Anyone 16 or older is eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Kentucky.

While answering reporters’ questions, the governor ruled out making the vaccinations mandatory. Requiring the shots might have the opposite effect, potentially driving down vaccinations, he said.

“We’ve got a complicated country right now, where we’ve got people believing some of the craziest things from the internet that we could ever imagine,” he said. “That makes it hard to ultimately bring people around. It’s going to take us listening and being patient, being compassionate, not getting frustrated.”

The governor acknowledged there’s “no easy solution” to increasing the inoculation rate. He talked about a grassroots approach in which community leaders, business owners and doctors encourage others to get the shots. It’s also a discussion that needs to take place among friends, he said.

Kentucky’s vaccination rate has noticeably lagged among younger adults ages 20-49.

“You’re a big key to helping us win this battle,” the Democratic governor said.

Meanwhile, Beshear reported 628 new coronavirus cases statewide Thursday and eight more virus-related deaths, including three deaths discovered through the state’s audit of deaths from prior months. The state’s virus death toll surpassed 6,380 since the pandemic began.

The statewide rate of positive cases was 3.36%, down slightly, he said. The state reported 440 virus patients hospitalized in Kentucky, including 121 in intensive care units.