Faith, Freedom, Fear: Rural America’s Covid Vaccine Skeptics

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So which trusted person will speak for the vaccine? Eva Fields?

She is a nurse-practitioner who treated one of the first local patients to die from Covid. Greeneville-raised, she has 24 relatives who had the virus.

When she asks patients if they will get vaccinated, about half reply, “No and I’m not going to.” Assuming she’ll be angry, they add, “I’m so sorry if that upsets you!”

Miss Fields responds, “That’s OK, honey. I’m not planning to, either.”

Her gut tells her to believe a video someone sent her from a far-right misinformation group, in which a ranter said studies showed that vaccines caused plaque in the brain.

Like others here, she is suspicious of Bill Gates’s involvement in vaccine development. One evening at supper, Dr. Theo Hensley, a vaccine proponent in her office, retorted: “I don’t know Bill Gates but I do know that Dolly Parton gave a million bucks.” (Ms. Parton is northeast Tennessee’s favorite daughter.)

“Well, she’s probably OK,” Miss Fields allowed.

“When someone pushes something really hard, I sit back, because I don’t like people telling me, ‘This is what you need to do,’ ” Miss Fields said. Echoing many others, she added, “I need to do my own research.”

For now, she neither urges nor discourages patients to get the vaccine.

The day the Fletchers, the retired couple, spoke about the vaccine with their family physician, Dr. Daniel Lewis, was the one-year anniversary of the day he was put on a ventilator with a severe case of Covid.

Dr. Lewis, 43, remained hospitalized for over a month. He was so gravely ill that he recorded farewell messages for his five children.