Vaccine Hesitancy in Rural Tennessee

And the fear of losing control.

By Lauren Jackson and Mahima Chablani

Hi everyone, happy Friday. Our team has been busy this week, covering the news from Silicon Valley to Jerusalem. On Fridays, we take some time to plan our week ahead. So we’d love to know: What would you like to hear an episode about in the coming days? Let us know here — we always love to hear what is on your mind.

In today’s newsletter, Jan Hoffman, our behavioral health reporter, tells us more about the personal stories behind vaccine hesitancy in a small southern town. Then, we preview a new season of Modern Love.

Inside a town of waving strangers and vaccine skeptics

By Jan Hoffman

I recently went to Greeneville, Tenn., to speak with people who were skeptical about the Covid-19 vaccine. Polls suggest that resistance is most entrenched among folks who identify as white, rural, Republican and evangelical Christian — a four-square summation of Greeneville, a town of 15,000 in southern Appalachia.

Vaccination ripples protection against a disease outward, from yourself to your family to the people you encounter daily. And in contrast to a large city, where those random encounters can feel anonymous, everyone in Greeneville seems to feel known and connected.

Strangers wave at you as they drive by. When neighbors and fellow churchgoers are struggling, people show up in droves to help. Schoolchildren and grown-ups tuck painted stones throughout downtown, hoping that others will find them and impishly hide them in new spots, or that town visitors will transport them to faraway places and send photos to the Greeneville Rocks Facebook page.

Rarely have I been to such a chatty, friendly town. Bewildered, I kept asking the many pastors I met: How could people so committed, civically and religiously, to caring for their neighbors refuse to take a vaccine intended as an essential guardian of the community?

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