Stanly’s low vaccination rate featured on ‘Meet the Press’

Stanly County appeared on national television Sunday, when its low vaccination rate was brought up during a short segment on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

As part of the “Data Download” portion of the broadcast, host Chuck Todd detailed how traveling a short distance for the holidays could have a potentially adverse effect on a person’s health.

Todd showed that of the 27 percent of Americans still unvaccinated, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of that population are Republicans.

“Just because it’s blue state, red state, you can live close together and end up essentially crashing into each other’s blue and red bubbles,” Todd said.

To illustrate his point, Todd brought up a map of North Carolina as an example. He highlighted two counties that, though close in proximity, differ quite a bit when it comes to vaccination rates. Todd showed that Mecklenburg — a county easily won by Joe Biden — had vaccinated 59 percent of its residents vaccinated, while Stanly — which was won convincingly by Donald Trump — had vaccinated only 39 percent. The data came from the US Covid Atlas, a visualization tool created by a groups of University of Chicago researchers.

The numbers are fairly accurate, though according to North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, Mecklenburg has fully vaccinated 58 percent of residents while Stanly has vaccinated 41 percent. Only a handful of other counties in the state have vaccination rates as low as Stanly’s.

“So just a 30-minute drive actually gets you outside not only your political bubble but your Covid bubble and that itself is gonna not just roil political debates this holiday season, but also some health debates,” Todd said.

County Commissioner Peter Asciutto, who watched the segment, said the county can and must do better to improve its vaccination rate and prevent future deaths, especially with the new Omicron coronavirus variant that was recently detected in South Africa. So far, 211 Stanly residents have died since the pandemic began last spring.

Whenever he travels to Charlotte to visit his son, Asciutto, who is one of Atrium Health’s community vaccine ambassadors, has noticed that the overwhelmingly majority of people wear masks when indoors, while in Stanly, “I hardly see people wearing masks anymore.”

Former county commissioner David Morgan, who regularly watches the show and was shocked when Stanly appeared on his screen, said he hopes the county appearing in such an unflattering light on national television will be the catalyst to help convince people who might still be hesitant to get vaccinated.

Calling the segment “embarrassing” for the county, Morgan said it could have repercussions down the line, including in recruiting new business to the area.

“I don’t think it’s going to help us with any economic development with people seeing something like that on the national level,” he said.