May 18 (UPI) -- COVID-19 vaccination rates are about 15% lower in rural areas of the United States than they are in urban regions, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Just under 39% of adults living in rural counties nationally had been vaccinated as of April 10, compared to 46% of those in urban counties, the data showed.
Adults age 65 and older -- those given first priority for receiving the shots -- were vaccinated at a rate of 68% in rural areas and 76% in urban ones, the agency said.
Fewer than 30% of adults under age 64 living in rural areas had received the COVID-19 vaccine as of April 10, while 38% of those in urban areas had done so.
In addition, vaccination rates among women -- 48% versus 42% -- and men -- 42% versus 35% -- were higher in urban counties than in rural ones, the CDC said.
"COVID-19 vaccination coverage was lower overall, among all age groups, and among men and women in rural compared with urban counties," the agency researchers wrote.
"Because residents of rural communities are at increased risk for severe COVID-19-associated illness and death, vaccination disparities between urban and rural areas might hinder efforts to reduce morbidity and mortality from COVID-19 nationally," they said.
The data are based on vaccine doses administered nationally between Dec. 14, when the Pfizer-BioNTech shot was cleared for use, and April 10, according to the CDC.
During that period, nearly 114 million people across the country had received at least their first dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, both of which require two shots for full protection.
The agency used population size, based on 2019 U.S. census estimates, to determine urban and rural counties across the country. Some 60 million people in the United States, or about one-fifth of the population, live in rural counties.
As of September 2020, more than 200 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people in the general population were reported in rural counties, or about twice the rate in large metropolitan areas.
Rural communities often have a higher proportion of residents who lack health insurance, have underlying health conditions, are age 65 or older, and have limited access to healthcare facilities, according to CDC.
These factors place residents of rural areas at increased risk for COVID-19, according to the agency.
"Disparities in COVID-19 vaccination between urban and rural communities can hinder progress toward ending the pandemic," agency researchers wrote.
"Public health practitioners should collaborate with health care providers, pharmacies, employers, faith leaders and other community partners to identify and address barriers to COVID-19 vaccination in rural areas," they said.