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Rural North Texas counties lag behind in COVID vaccinations as hospitalizations spike

Several counties have just a third of their eligible population fully vaccinated, and doctors say that leaves them vulnerable.

CLEBURNE, Texas — Rural counties in North Texas have COVID-19 vaccination rates far below the state’s average, and health officials are concerned about what that will mean as cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.  

“This vaccine platform is safe, and it's protecting lives,” said Dr. Rahulkumar Singh, the chief medical officer at Texas Health Harris Methodist Cleburne Hospital.

Sunday in North Texas, 1,597 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19, more than four times the 394 patients in the region just a month ago. Singh says more than 90% of their patients are unvaccinated.

“That is a hard fact and which we see now in this county, and we have been struggling to get our vaccination rate up,” Singh said.

RELATED: COVID delta variant pushes Dallas County to reopen Fair Park hub for vaccinations Saturday

Johnson County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in North Texas with just 39% of its eligible population fully vaccinated. By comparison, 62% of Collin County, which has the highest rate in the region, is fully vaccinated.

In nearby Erath County, just 30% of the county is fully vaccinated. That number is 32% in Palo Pinto County and 34% in Wise County.

“A lot of disinformation and social media which has not helped,” Singh said. “There has to be a lot more outreach from the local leaders and the community leaders.”

RELATED: Dallas County teams go door-to-door, pushing back-to-school immunization and COVID-19 vaccine clinics

As a whole, 52.7% of eligible Texans are fully vaccinated. 

Across the country, cases and hospitalizations are increasing, but they are the worst in the areas with the lowest vaccination rates, leaving the county vulnerable.

“We have seen I will say an uptick in the number of COVID patients,” Sing said. “We can save more lives and we can all get back to normal if we're able to vaccinate enough people in this country.”

“We’re looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up,” chief medical adviser to the White House Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview with ABC News Sunday.  

Fauci said he expects the trends to continue to rise but does not believe the country would lockdown nationwide again. 

“The solution to this is to get vaccinated and this would not be happening,” he said. 

Singh says a serious family illness or a death seems to change minds, but by then it’s too late.

RELATED: COVID-19 updates: State officials report more than 13,000 daily cases for first time since early February

“You are in the hospital and that's not the right time to get vaccinated,” Singh said. “Every time they are coming and getting admitted to the hospital, clinicians are having a one-to-one discussion with these patients and providing them with the right information.”

Older adults have higher vaccination rates so now most patients are 60 years old. One trend headed in the right direction is vaccinations. In Texas, the weekly average of vaccinations per day is up 39% from where it was two weeks ago.

“It does not matter you're young or you're old,” Singh said. “This virus is something which can really get you sick.”