Aetna Foundation, U.S. News report: Healthiest communities tend to be less COVID vaccine hesitant

The country's healthiest communities also tend to be less hesitant to get vaccinated for COVID-19, according to a new study.

U.S. News and the Aetna Foundation released their annual list of the healthiest communities in the nation and found that four of the top 10 communities had a vaccination rate higher than the national rate as of June 4, which was 41.4%.

In addition, seven of the 10 least hesitant communities when it comes to vaccines landed in the top 250 of the list, with six in the top 100, according to the report.

By comparison, fewer than half of the 10 most vaccine-hesitant counties made the top 250, according to the report.

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Sonja Hughes, M.D., medical director at Aetna, told Fierce Healthcare that the findings underscore a trend experts have followed for years: Where a person lives can significantly impact their health, and that was only furthered under the pandemic.

"I believe what the findings showed and demonstrated was the fact that we were all aware of the interdependence between the health of our communities and personal health," she said.

COVID-19 infections and mortality rates also varied significantly between the healthiest communities and less-healthy counties, according to the report. More than half of the 500 healthiest counties had fewer coronavirus infections per capita than the national rate as of May 31, which was 9,923 per 100,000 people.

Nearly three-quarters of the top 500 healthiest communities had fewer deaths than the national rate of 178 per 100,000 people.

The report also dived into the intersection of mental health and community health. For instance, communities with higher poverty rates tended to perform worse on mental health metrics, according to the report.

Poor mental health was linked to a number of poor physical health scores, such as heart disease and diabetes prevalence. Counties with higher life expectancies also tended to perform better on mental health metrics, according to the report.

Hughes said analyses like this may focus most on physical health data, and miss important signs of the impacts of mental health.

"I think that's an area that gets overlooked," she said.

Here's a look at the five healthiest communities included in this year's list:

  1. Los Alamos County, New Mexico: This is the first repeat No. 1 since the list's launch in 2018, according to the report. Los Alamos County scored especially high on population health and housing metrics.
  2. Douglas County, Colorado: This county earned a perfect 100 score for its economy and also earned a 90 score for population health and infrastructure.
  3. Falls Church, Virginia: This independent city in the District of Columbia suburbs scored 100 on education and also earned high marks for economy, population health and infrastructure.
  4. Loudoun County, Virginia: Loudoun County, also in the D.C. suburbs, earned a 100 score for its economy and a 91 for population health.
  5. Broomfield County, Colorado: Broomfield County is the youngest in Colorado and earned high marks for its economy and infrastructure.