A quick study of the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of poverty and a reference to the percentage of people in Cochise County who fit that criteria paints a dramatic picture.

Compared to the rest of the nation and all of Arizona, more people are living in poverty here than elsewhere.

Let’s qualify that statement.

Poverty is a measure of income that is graduated depending on the size of a family. The census bureau issues its “poverty threshold” each year, listing levels of income and families falling below the listed amount are “living in poverty.”

If you are a single person younger than 65 and you earn less than $13,571 in annual income, you are living in poverty. If you are a family of four, the threshold is $26,496.

Nationally, the poverty rate is 13.4%. Arizona is higher, at 15%.

Cochise County is at 16.6%, or just less than 20,000 people in our community of just more than 125,000.

For most people living in poverty, the cost of living is a challenge. Especially for a family of four, finding enough money to pay the rent, keep the lights on and stock the refrigerator is a weekly challenge. Often there are tough choices, like going to the doctor or buying enough food to feed the kids.

That’s exactly the reason Cochise County needs to stay in the vaccination business.

Last week, Supervisor Tom Crosby repeated his call for the county to stop offering the COVID-19 vaccination, this time stoking fear with the fact that we don’t know the long-term consequences of these shots.

We do know the short term consequences, and one of them is death. County health officials reported at the work session that 335 residents have died since the beginning of the pandemic, including five deaths from Oct. 8 to Oct. 20. We also know that the unvaccinated are more likely to contract a more serious and potentially life-threatening strain of COVID-19 than those who contract the disease after getting the shot.

For those living in poverty, county health services are a vital necessity. Getting a flu shot, testing for tuberculosis, finding out about the negative consequences of tobacco and other public services are important to maintaining the health of a population that can’t afford to put healthcare ahead of basic life necessities.

We were pleased to hear Supervisor Ann English’s immediate and decisive response on the question of continuing the county’s role in facilitating the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. She put it simply, noting that it’s the county’s “job” to help people get vaccinated.

If Cochise County wants to reduce, or potentially eliminate, the spread of this deadly disease, the proven effective way to accomplish that goal is by getting vaccinated.

Making sure the shots are easily accessible, and without cost, are important responsibilities, especially for those who cannot afford health care.