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PA Dept. of Health battling COVID-19 vaccination issues in rural areas

A study done by the CDC found a nearly 7% difference in covid-19 vaccination rates between rural and urban counties.

PERRY COUNTY, Pa. — 85 year old Wanda Stahl from Perry County says she had no trouble  making an appointment for the vaccine.

Although she says she  did have to drive a little bit further away to be able to get it. 

“I made contact, got an appointment, and got in without any problem. So, I  would say that I’ve been adequately served," said Stahl. 

However, George Schadler, also from Perry County says getting an appointment for the vaccine when it first became available was nearly impossible, especially living in a rural area. 

"When it first started out, it was hard for us to find vaccines because there wasn’t any websites up and it was really hit or miss to even find a place. And if you did most of them were already backed up for you know weeks," said Schadler. 

He says that changed a few weeks ago.

"Appointments opened up and as long as you could get access to a computer there was no problem finding a vaccine," said Schadler. 

But Schadler says even with more availability, he’s seeing a lot of hesitancy in his community in getting the vaccine, he says it’s due to mistrust in health organizations like the CDC.

"For some reason they don’t trust it, they’re not sure what they want to do, and it surprises me because if they know people that have already been sick from it, why don’t they want to get the vaccine?" says Schadler. 

A study done by the CDC found a nearly 7% difference in covid-19 vaccination rates between rural and urban counties.

The DOH says they are aware of those disparities and are working to close that gap. 

"So we’re looking at that and working out with the providers in that area on how to reach people," said Acting Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson.

They’re efforts include going directly to those sites where the vaccine is not as accessible.

"We are going to be implementing mobile clinics, some of that is already going on where they can get out, especially in rural areas where transportation is more difficult.”

The DOH says they also have a process in place to  help people with transportation so they can get to the vaccination sites. 

They provided a statement saying:

Pennsylvania is making progress in his efforts to vaccinate people living in rural communities. The start of the vaccine rollout focused on having relatively big facilities that could handle a large amount of people to meet the high demand for the vaccine. Overall, this strategy was extremely successful, but for some people, who lacked transportation or lived in rural areas, it could be difficult or inconvenient for them to get to mass vaccination sites or large facilities. Now that we have added more localized providers in rural communities, we are able to create numerous more opportunities and locations for people living in rural areas to get vaccinated. Additionally, many retail pharmacy partners, including pharmacy chains, grocery chains and wholesalers, are also providing vaccines to residents in rural communities. The department also supports mobile clinic efforts in rural areas of the state.

There are a variety of efforts underway to engage with residents in rural communities to overcome hesitancy and make the vaccine more easily available to those residents

The Pennsylvania Department of Health recognizes that some people are hesitant to get vaccinated, but we are working to inform those individuals about the vaccine to address their hesitancy. We believe that good information will help people make good decisions. Here are some of thing the department is doing to address hesitancy:

  • We are successfully working with local county leaders, influencers, medical professionals, and trusted messengers to ensure that our efforts represent the diversity of our communities as well as provide the hyper local approach to addressing anyone’s concerns about the vaccine.
  • The Department of Health has made it a priority to educate and inform all Pennsylvanians of the safety and efficiency of the vaccine. To reach every community – from rural to urban, and everything in between – we have a coordinated statewide outreach campaign titled PA Unites Against COVID (www.pa.gov/covid), to get vaccine information into the hands of our residents.
  • DOH is also launching a multi-million-dollar, multi-media statewide marketing campaign to encourage more Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated. We acknowledge that it is critical for us to meet people where they are… and we recognize that trusted messengers will be critical to shifting attitudes. The media campaign is delivering messages that appeal to each community’s unique motivations and hesitancy concerns.
  • The message we want all residents to know is there are safe and effective vaccines available. The vaccines are the best way forward to protect you, your loved ones and neighbors from the virus and get back to their life and the things they may have missed over this past year.
  • DOH is also supporting the efforts of mobile vaccination clinics to reach populations that have obstacles getting to brick and mortar vaccination facilities.
  • DOH continues to expand the distribution of vaccine to more providers — including pharmacies of all sizes, doctor’s offices, workplace health providers, and even colleges — to ensure trusted community partners can vaccinate people in their communities.

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